Repurposing V Street’s Atlantic Plumbing, Within Limits
Sometimes, a city's vacant industrial buildings can be among its greatest resources. They can become New York's markets, Berlin's nightclubs, Alexandria's galleries, and D.C.'s office complexes and luxury apartments and party spaces.
But sometimes, a developer determines that one of these buildings just isn't salvageable. Take the Atlantic Plumbing building, next to the 9:30 Club at the corner of 8th and V streets NW. The JBG Companies and New York architect Morris Adjmi are preparing to turn it and a vacant building across the street into a big residential complex. But before that happens, they're going to tear the buildings to the ground.
Why? First, it's a matter of scale: The Atlantic Plumbing building takes up a tiny fraction of the space the new 10-story, 290,000-square-foot, 310-apartment building will occupy on the lot that's currently home to a lot of empty space and a couple of smaller vacant buildings; likewise with the building on the south side of V Street that'll become a six-story, 67,000-square-foot, 65-unit apartment building. Second, the buildings are in rough shape—when I visited last week, a portion of the ceiling in the Atlantic Plumbing building had just collapsed, making it dangerous to go inside.
But that's not to say that the old structures will be forgotten entirely. Adjmi, who's repurposed industrial buildings in New York but hasn't yet done a project in D.C., says his plans incorporate many of the grungier elements of the site. The bricks are in the process of being removed one by one to be installed in the interior of the new buildings. The brick lettering of the Atlantic Plumbing sign above, as well as the graffitied bricks from the southern building (below—they'll likely be reconfigured into a different pattern in the new space) and the steel strewn around the lot (second photo below), will be included in the buildings' public spaces. Adjmi says he may even try to cull the weeds from the lot for use in one of the new development's rooftop or patio gardens.
In a rendering of the Atlantic Plumbing lobby, the bricks are easy to spot; the steel beams, less so. (They're in the wall behind the receptionist.)
The graffiti on the southern building actually helped inspire the plans for the development, which will include about 4,000 square feet of subsidized artist studios along 8th Street. "The catalyst of the whole discussion for bringing art into the building was all the graffiti art in the area," Adjmi says. "The ideas was that the artists are always a little bit ahead of the city in terms of neighborhoods."
The 8th Street strip was chosen for studios because it's not a sufficiently visible and visited stretch for retail, though JBG hopes that the artists, who will be required to open up their studios for occasional public displays, will bring foot traffic to the area, particularly during daytime hours when the 9:30 Club isn't attracting crowds. Still, JBG's Caitlin Leary says the goal of the studios isn't to make the development more attractive in order to jack up rents. "We're not assuming that it's going to add a ton of value to other aspects of the project," she says.
The two buildings will feature studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom rental apartments at rates comparable to others in the neighborhood. The larger building will have more amenities, including a rooftop pool, that will be available to residents of both buildings. There will also be ground-floor retail—likely restaurants and bars—along V Street and a small movie theater in the southwest corner of the Atlantic Plumbing building. Leary says JBG is currently in negotiations with a "nationally known movie theater" but declines to name the theater. It'll be about 11,000 square feet, she says, with more than one screen.
JBG expects to break ground in mid-June. Delivery of apartments in the smaller, southern building is anticipated for the fall of 2014, with the larger Atlantic Plumbing building following shortly thereafter. The project complies with existing zoning regulations, meaning that JBG was not required to secure any special approvals, but Leary says JBG presented its plans to the local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner anyway and got a "positive reaction."What does Adjmi, who places a premium on adaptive reuses of old buildings with a lot of character make of D.C.'s contemporary architecture, with its often squat, boxy designs and glassy facades? Adjmi hedges for a long time on this question before answering diplomatically. "I think there are a lot of interesting buildings," he says. "I think there are a lot of not-so-interesting buildings."
But Adjmi thinks he can bring a little extra spice to D.C.'s streetscape. "I like the industrial/post-industrial aesthetic," he says. "That's why we're bringing it here."
Photos by Aaron Wiener. Renderings courtesy of JBG.