Housing Complex

GSA’s Choice: Friendly or Forbidding?

Option 1: Lots of barriers and bollards, no retail.

Option 1: Lots of barriers and bollards, no retail.

Tomorrow, the National Capital Planning Commission will consider two different futures for the renovated General Services Administration headquarters at 1800 F Street: One, a highly secured streetscape design with bollards all over the sidewalks and 16-inch-thick security barriers. Or two: A welcoming, pedestrian-friendly retail scenario that could make the federal building into a part of the city, rather than a forbidding fortress.

The NCPC staff report (too big to link; but you can get it through the agenda) strongly recommends the latter alternative, which would create space for cafes and shops along E Street, and an at-grade entrance instead of doors elevated from the sidewalk. Under this option, GSA’s cafeteria could also be open to the public, as well as federal employees. It would extend street life into an area of the city that tends to feel very institutional, and better serve the greater number of people who’ll be working in the newly expanded building (glassy infill additions are planned for the currently “E”-shaped floorplan).

The idea is also part of an overall shift in federal real estate towards greater integration with their surroundings, laid out in a paper earlier this year called “Activating Federal Places.” Other projects have already led the way in D.C., to varying degrees of success—think the Ronald Reagan Building, the International Monetary Fund, and the Department of Transportation headquarters near the Navy Yard metro. And, the staff report notes, a successful retail plan here could set a good example for the deserted-feeling Federal Triangle and Southwest Federal Center areas.

Option 2: Fewer bollards, a living facade.

Option 2: Fewer bollards, a living facade.

It takes a long time to turn the ship of state, but the retail option for the country’s biggest property manager would be a shove in the right direction.

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