Housing Complex

This Would Never Happen in D.C.

(Rendering by Hord Coplan Macht)

While reading about the new Safeway-anchored residential development just approved in Wheaton, all I could think was: Why can't we get these kinds of buildings in the District? It's a 17-story, 486-unit, 195-foot-tall apartment complex that will add density and vibrance to the suburb's delightfully diverse and quirky town center. But it won't look like the superblocks that proliferate within the D.C. diamond, which are the way they are because developers must ask their architects to pack as much square footage under the 130-foot height limit as possible to make the deal work financially. Since Wheaton is not bound by such restrictions, this development can achieve a kind of light, airy quality with towers on each corner and quite a bit of open space in the middle of the block. That also creates higher-quality living spaces for apartment dwellers, many more of whom will be able to have natural light.

I'm thinking about this stuff because, against my better instincts, I'll be taking a crack at the Height Act debate in next week's issue. The New York Times says we're talking about it, so might as well!

  • T

    Actually, this is very similar to both City Vista and Constitution Square (both of which contain apartments over supermarkets, with central residential courtyards), with the exception that both of those DC projects actually have many more apartments in them although they are slightly shorter.

    As far as the courtyards and varied massing is concerned, large residential projects in DC have always had similar courtyards, because it's the only way to get light and air into the interior of the block.

    This project in Wheaton is very interesting, and will certainly be a huge boost to their neighborhood, but don't forget it also has FIVE stories of above ground parking! So is has five extra stories of height, but it doesn't add anything more than cars.

  • David

    What is the author talking about? There already ARE developments like that in DC. Hello? City Vista, as T said above?

    This article was a whiff. There's also a similar block-style condo/apartment/retail row down in the U Street corridor. Doesn't have a supermarket but it seems very nicely done and there's a courtyard in the center of it.

  • W Jordan

    Folk parroting the Genny line cry for more density and vibrancy, but then demand an exclusive quasi-segragated lifestyle and police state to keep "the other(s)" at bay. All, while lacking the civic know-how to sustain a high density/vibrant community. Then they look for superwoman to bail them out.

  • J

    David and T - you completely missed the point. This building will be 65 feet taller than what is allowed in DC. Are we reading the same article?

    As for airy space - the only reason city vista has any is because theres barely anything around it- it was put up in what was a dead zone.

  • paulie

    "Since Wheaton is not bound by such restrictions, this development can achieve a kind of light, airy quality with towers on each corner and quite a bit of open space in the middle of the block"

    I think the author is arguing that in DC, the developers aren't able to incorporate certain design features (open space) into their buildings since they are restricted by height laws. In other words, we get cube-like buildings in DC because developers want to make use every cubic unit of space on their lot.

  • T

    All 65 feet of additional height are going in to above ground parking - in addition to underground parking. The actual number of floors of non-parking space is exactly the same as City Vista and Constitution Square.

    As for the open space/elevated courtyards, that's EXACTLY what the DC projects mentioned include. The boxy buildings we get downtown are office buildings, and if developers could build offices on K Street that were 20 stories instead of 12, we still wouldn't have courtyards in them.

  • T

    I'm not suggesting that this Wheaton project is bad - it's a great addition, and this is part of what makes Metro so successful versus BART in California. Here, even suburban stations are encouraged to sprout little highrise districts. But to say this project can't happen in DC is to ignore the fact that there are recently completed and under-construction complexes that are essentially the same thing - but with less parking. The story here should be about the success of Metro and the Silver Spring redevelopment projects, and how this success is spreading North to Wheaton.

  • andrew

    Ditto to what everybody else here has already said. It sure does look an awful lot like Constitution Square, but with the parking aboveground instead of under...

  • Lydia DePillis


    Thanks for your comments, especially the parking point. On the courtyard point though: Wouldn't the tower design make for more and better light for the average unit than an interior shaft? Also, I was mostly referring to the pedestrian experience: CityVista still appears from the street to be a solid, monolithic mass. The overall argument is that given the same footprint, additional height would allow architects to achieve more and better units in more interesting configurations. Which isn't to say that there aren't excellent residential projects in D.C.--Constitution Square, as you mentioned, does have some attractive open elevated courtyards. With additional allowable height, it's possible this might happen more often.



  • T

    Perhaps it would lead to more elevated courtyards, but I don't know... it's already a common tactic for residential and has been for decades, as can be seen clearly all along Connecticut, Rhode Island, 16th, etc.

    However, you're right about the difference between the one at CityVista versus Constitution Square. As andrew points out above, the Wheaton Safeway design looks just like Constitution Square (which is a good thing).

    However, without the height limit, there's a good chance we never would have had Constitution Square at all, since there may not have ever been all of its neighboring office buildings there in NoMA.

  • JrinDC

    This is a really great point. I live in downtown Washington and often times walk around going, "god, I wish this place was more like Wheaton"....

    give me a break.

  • Dave

    I live in DC too, and wish I could get anywhere near as much good, cheap ethnic food downtown as I can get on my excursions to Wheaton. Which doesn't have much to do with architecture or height limits, but still, Wheaton is one of those places you're probably bashing because it's in the suburbs and you're too lazy to go see what's there.

  • http://yahoo mike

    Move to Wheaton............dam.

  • Jeff

    I disagree with removing the DC height limitations. The "mid-rise" nature of DC is one of our most distinctive features. I find the financial districts of most cities to feel like barren wastelands, in part because the towering office blocks don't admit views or sunlight, and create wind tunnel effects. These microclimates in turn preclude the sort of urban treecover that DC has managed to preserve.

  • Majid

    I agree with this article. Also, I love dining in Wheaton. It is a great place for ethic food. Very diverse community, a hop on the metro out of the district. I also heard that they will be getting a Costco at the mall. Wheaton seems to be doing it right...