After months of negotiations and redesigns, the university’s Northeast Triangle Residence Hall was awarded final concept approval by the Old Georgetown Board at its monthly meeting Thursday.
“We’re feeling very good about the direction the project is taking, so we have taken action to approve conceptual design,” OGB member David Cox said.
The meeting, held at the National Building Museum, was attended by several Georgetown representatives including Vice President for Planning and Facilities Management Robin Morey and architects representing Sasaki Associates, the architecture firm that designed the Northeast Triangle.
Since the university announced plans to construct a new dormitory July 5, the Northeast Triangle project has been beset with roadblocks. Original concept designs for the residence hall were reworked after concerns were raised by students and alumni about the design’s perceived architectural incoherence with respect to other university buildings. While the design received approval from the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E in November, architects went back to the drawing board to win the approval of the Old Georgetown Board, and the project was forced to push back its scheduled completion date from fall 2015 to fall 2016.
Georgetown University Student Association Director of Student Space Jack Appelbaum (COL ’14), who served on the Northeast Triangle Planning Committee, expressed excitement that, with approval, students would soon be able to see more tangible aspects of the residence hall taking shape.
“I really think it’s an exciting and imporant step in the project,” Appelbaum said. “It’s definitely a big change we’ve seen from the initial concepts over the summer. I think it’s really exciting to see things progressing and moving forward, and I think it means that people are going to start seeing more realities of the project starting to pop up.
The university won the OGB’s approval after changing the design for the residence hall based on input received from the board. The OGB had previously approved the proposed dorm’s height, massing and siting at its meeting Dec. 5.
“We’ve continued our efforts in refining the design, integrating the feedback from the larger community and we have received what we consider significant, enthusiastic support from the larger community as well as our main clients, the student body,” Morey said in an interview with The Hoya.
The new dorm, which will house approximately 225 students in accordance with the 2010 Campus Plan agreement, will feature suite-style housing primarily for sophomore students, similar to Copley Hall.
Throughout the most recent stages of the design process, architects worked to incorporate the suggestions of the OGB without straying from the initial design concept released in June.
“We felt our team had done a good job of integrating the comments from the OGB while still respecting many of the primary tenants that students wanted to see in the building. There’s a fine balancing act there and I think that … we were successful in trying to balance all of this competing interest,” Morey said.
Although they granted concept approval, OGB members still had objections to certain aspects of the Northeast Triangle’s design.
After previous feedback suggested that the design did not address heavy foot traffic on the south side of the building, Sasaki Associates added a new primary entrance on the south side of the residence hall that will lead into a large open social space on the ground floor.
Cox said he thought that the design for this entrance could still be improved upon.
“At the south entry, you don’t have enough depth. It’s like you came to it late and it hasn’t yet taken on a stake in your minds as important,” Cox said.
The final concept also featured a facade that was altered to incorporate elements of stone, brick and glass that are reminiscent of the stone buildings surrounding Healy Lawn and the brick buildings like Henle Village on the north side of campus, after being contested by OGB members in December.
A second cause of concern was the varying sizes of windows throughout the building. In the current design, the windows vary in width, which OGB member H. Alan Brangman likened to the design of a prison.
“I’m struggling to understand the rationale behind the window configuration,” Brangman said. “As windows start to get slimmer, it starts to become reminiscent of another type of residence.”
Architects said they incorporated the window design scheme in order to maintain a high quality of natural light in the building as well as enhance the appearance of the building.
“There was a sense that there was a certain monotony to the standard repetition of the windows,” Sasaki architect Vinicius Gorgati said.
OGB members also criticized a lack of continuity between the pavement that will surround the new residence hall and those that are present already throughout campus. Architects proposed using water-resistant — or non-pervious — asphalt pavement around the Northeast Triangle to allow emergency vehicles to drive in that area.
“You’re leaving Red Square, which is all brick, and that whole sidewalk that goes behind Reiss [Science Building] is all brick, and then you transition to asphalt for this new walkway. … It doesn’t make a lot of sense that you wouldn’t want to tie this in,” Brangman said.
On March 20, the university will seek concept approval from the Commission of Fine Arts, which oversees the OGB. According to Morey, approval is anticipated.
“It’s not likely that [the Commission of Fine Arts] would overturn what the OGB does,” Morey said.
The D.C. Zoning Commission indicated that it would also issue approval after the OGB released its decision.
After receiving final concept approval, architects will continue to refine the design for the residence hall and make changes to the building based on OGB’s comments, focusing mainly on details, such as selecting the exact materials for the building. The university will seek design development approval from the OGB in May at which point it will be eligible to apply for a building permit. Construction is expected to last anywhere from 14 to 20 months.
“This allows us to really focus our resources. We know we have the concept and where we’re going with the concept, so we can further refine and design as is. We’re not going to have to do any redesign,” Morey said.
Construction of the new dorm is slated to begin in late spring or summer 2014, alongside renovations to Lauinger Library and the construction of the John R. Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center, and is scheduled to be completed by fall 2016.
An earlier version of this post used an outdated design of Northeast Triangle. The photo is now up to date with a February 2014 concept.