Housing Complex

Meet the Guy Who Built MidCity (And Get Ready to Learn More)

The Allegro, which Colbert says typifies an "emerging style" in D.C. architecture.

Last week, the Business Journal ran a profile of Eric Colbert, the architect behind literally dozens of multifamily residential buildings in the hot neighborhoods between Adams Morgan, Shaw, and Dupont Circle. You may have noticed his name on several projects underway up and down 14th Street: The one replacing Yum's, the Verizon building at R Street, and JBG's Utopia project on U Street. Not to mention Progression Place in Shaw, a thing in Southwest, and Northwest One. As the story explains, Colbert's been around for 30 years now, did well through the last boom, and is ideally positioned to catch the current wave of residential projects now hitting D.C.'s inner neighborhoods.

The BizJo's timing was interesting, though, as I'd just interviewed Colbert the day before for my own profile that's been in the works for a while now. It's going to be longer and broader and take a look at the ways in which this one firm—like Esocoff and Associates on Massachusetts Avenue—has and will continue to shape our residential corridors.

A preview: Colbert says he gives his project architects a long leash, as long as what they're working on is consistent with his overall vision. I asked him to describe what he meant by that. Colbert hesitated before answering.

"It has to make sense," he said finally. "I don’t want it to be boring. But on the other hand, I don’t want to put ornamentation on a building that doesn’t have some practical foundation. Its hard for me to explain, but some buildings seem to be just kind of swoopy, just for the hell of it. And we don’t have the luxury or the desire to do that. Just the economics of an apartment building are much different than any other type of building, like the National Gallery. So the amount of discipline you have to have in doing a building like this is extreme."

If there's a rap on Colbert, from the folks I've talked to so far, it's that his designs can be somewhat bland (with the notable exception of the Floridian, which was something special). But that's in part a reflection of D.C.'s conservative design culture, and the developer's tendency to go with what's safe.

We will explore all this and more in a future edition of Housing Complex! In the mean time, please get in touch if you've got rants, raves, or general information about the guy who might be the biggest influence on D.C. neighborhood architecture since Harry Wardman.

  • http://www.justupthepike.com dan reed!

    Close second would probably be Torti Gallas & Partners, who designed the Ellington on U Street, Kenyon Square/Park Triangle/Highland Park/that senior building in Columbia Heights, Park Place in Petworth, and countless other buildings around the city and region. (I grew up in an apartment building in Silver Spring designed by Torti Gallas in 1967.)

  • Kevin

    Yeah, "bland" just about covers it...including the Floridian.

  • Hillman

    Not a fan of the Floridian. I appreciate the fact that they tried to do something different. But is reeks of being different for the sake of being different.

    In ten years it will look dated.

  • Marie

    I've been told his office is very very quiet, more quiet than other firms. No needless chatter among the worker bees.

  • Lorna Doone

    Bland would be high praise. Strictly third rate sums it up better. Colbert works cheap and it shows. He doesn't come close to even second rate and neither does Esocoff. These characters are draftsmen with political ins and publicists,they are not architects in the best sense of the word.

    ". Just the economics of an apartment building are much different than any other type of building, like the National Gallery."....duh! The intellectual capacity of a gnat!

    "We will explore all this and more in a future edition of Housing Complex.....the guy who might be the biggest influence on D.C. neighborhood architecture since Harry Wardman." You've got to be kidding, right! Colbert and Esocoff are designing the tenement blocks of tomorrow.

    No only doesn't Colbert's stuff not hold up aesthetically its a usually a leaky boat from the get go...

    Interesting to me that you haven't even competently identified some of the better practitioners even though their work is eminently manifest as well. This paean to the likes of Eric Colbert expose you Ms.DePillis as a emperor with no clothes. You might go back to reporting real estate price fluctuations and let the commentary to those with the depth and the knowledge to have credibility.

  • Lampredotto

    @Lorna Doone

    Give Lydia a break.

    The fact that you directly equate Colbert's buildings with Esocoff's characterful and quirky works suggests that you yourself are all pomp and no circumstance. Go take a look at the detailing of 425 Mass Ave Apartments, or the Whitman Condominium on 9th Street. Then tell us if you still think Colbert and Esocoff are one and the same.

  • Lorna Doone

    to Lampredotto

    I wasn't equating the styles, I was equating the level which both bodies of work reflect which is third rate.

  • Lisa Duperier

    Lydia, thanks for planning a more in-depth piece. Look forward to reading it!

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