Housing Complex

In Celebration of Retrofits: Before and After

As exciting as it is to see shiny new LEED-certified buildings going up all over town, there's been quite a bit of buzz lately about how the greenest building is the one that already exists. In recognition of that, three giant buildings that have recently been totally redone, rather than razed and rebuilt.


First up: The full-block building at 3rd and C Street SW that houses the Public Health Service. Over the past year, its blank concrete walls have been partially deconstructed and replaced with vertical ribbon windows, transforming what was once a depressing bunker into a light-filled, modern office building.



Then there's Gibson Plaza, a Section 8 apartment building on 7th Street NW which has been almost completely gutted and upgraded for energy efficiency. Most of the change is on the inside, with new appliances and better community spaces. But the exterior has been handsomely re-faced as well, with a smooth, limestone-like material on the street level.




Architecture firm Weincek & Associates has creatively redesigned the facade of a large senior housing complex on 14th and Girard Street NW, with painted foam blocks framing the balconies and creating an openness around the entrance—the kind of aesthetic change that helps change public perception of subsidized housing. The renovation also added landscaping and planter beds in the back.

  • H Street Landlord

    Nice round up. I always cringe when I see a large (structurally sound) building being torn down. Seems so unnecessary.

  • jason

    I'm actually quite impressed with how tastefully done the Gibson Plaza reno was - save for those triangular flourishes on the roof. Very tacky, very suburban. FWIW.

  • bbop

    now get rid of the huge ugly fence in front of the senior housing building

  • RT


    bbop just brought something up that has been annoying me for decades. Can you do an article on the horrendous, tall, foreboding fences all along 16th Street from the top of Meridian Hill/Mal X to Columbia Heights? They have clearly outlived their usefulness, even for the embassies and such (do other embassies need these??).

  • Drew

    Wish all these buildings were retrofitted with ground-floor retail.

  • danmac

    425 Eye St at 4th & I St NW was retrofitted a couple of years ago and I think is a improvement over the earlir building

  • Will

    Lydia, RT & BBOP,

    The fence issue really should get some attention. The rule in DC is that if its on public space, it's no more than 48" tall, and at least 50% open (ie, picket fence is OK, so long as the pickets are evenly spaced with the a picket's width of void space between them). You see illegal fences all over the city. Though in years past, I suspect just about anyone was given a variance for any reason.

    This partly explains the brouhaha with Mayor Gray's fence a while back. The public space committee was just standing firm on the rules, as they had been for at least a couple of years, and Gray was upset that they didn't just roll over and allow his 7 foot fence.

    Fences and hedges are a big deal in local politics. Santa Monica went so far as to fine people thousands of dollars over their non-compliant hedges a few years back. Such a big deal it made it onto NPR's national coverage!

  • Lydia DePillis


    Agreed on the weirdly tacky fake rooflines!

    @Will @BBOP @RT

    I think I did my big fence piece here: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2011/03/17/do-fence-me-in-capitol-hill%E2%80%99s-potomac-gardens-isn%E2%80%99t-as-dangerous-as-it-was-but-its-gates-remain/

    But yeah, they're a problem.

  • bbop

    thanks, Lydia, good piece.

  • maxameliana

    there's a new fence that just went in as part of the open space rehab on N St NW btw 6th and 7th that's easily 10' tall

  • Davey

    What about any considerations for the streetscape? Any chance these renovations could have make the neighborhood better by increasing pedestrian access?