How an Adaptive, Mixed-Use Community Blends Historic and Modern Elements
By Bob Neal Principal, Cooper Carry | October 06, 2019
When working in cities like Washington, D.C., the historic character of buildings and streets abounds. That's why the design for Columbia Place, a 12-story, mixed-use development combining a dual-branded hotel, residences and retail offerings with eight historic buildings, didn't need to create a new sense of place. Rather, the architecture honors and preserves the area's rich history while also enhancing the guest experience for the next generation.
Guided by the notion that cities and neighborhoods can be developed in a way that builds upon their origins, the planning for the mixed-use community focused on the balance between the "old" and the "new." The recently completed project marries modern finishes such as glass and metal with historic structures dating back to the civil war. Conceived by national design firm COOPER CARRY in collaboration with tvsdesign, Columbia Place is proof that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Where Art Meets Business
The story of Columbia Place begins with a history lesson. The surrounding Shaw District is also referred to as the Mount Vernon West Historical District and was originally known as the Northern Liberties. Dating back to 1791, the neighborhood's main feature is Mount Vernon Square, which was laid out on the L'Enfant Plan for the city of Washington.
Right on the edge of Chinatown, steps from the Mt. Vernon Square Metrorail station and minutes from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Union Station, Columbia Place's prominent address provides guests with easy access to plenty of popular attractions: tours of museums and historic monuments, the White House and National Mall, sports and entertainment at Capital One Arena, high-end shopping and coveted tables at some of the city's hottest restaurants.
Today, the area is also home to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, an extraordinary 2.3 million-square-foot facility equipped to handle events of all sizes, from small groups and meetings to conventions for up to 42,000 attendees. Since opening in 2003, the center has hosted nearly 1,800 events including presidential inaugural balls, received a Guinness World Record for hosting the largest sit-down dinner with 16,206 guests, offered public tours of its $4 million art collection and welcomed almost 10 million visitors in its first 10 years. In 2006, the Convention Center and its design team received the prestigious Urban Land Institute (ULI) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) awards for the most successful urban development project.
The mixed-use development combines a dual-branded hotel, residences and retail offerings with eight historic buildings.
To meet the growing demands of meeting planners and compete with similar facilities around the country, the Washington Convention and Sports Authority understood the area could absorb approximately 1,700 hotel rooms.
Rather than develop one hotel option with all 1,700 guest rooms, the total was divided across three hotel concepts branded by Marriott. In 2014, the Marriott Marquis Washington, DC opened its doors for business directly across 9th street from the famed Convention Center. With more than 100,000 square feet of meeting space, the 1,175-key hotel, which was also designed by COOPER CARRY and tvsdesign, became the largest in the nation's capital.
Once the stately hotel was complete, local attention turned across L street to the site for Columbia Place. Today, the distinctive urban infill development encompasses 719,000 square feet and is comprised of a 357-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel, a 147-room Residence Inn, 203 market-rate apartments, 4,000 square feet of rooftop amenities, 10,000 square feet of shared meeting space, two levels of underground parking and approximately 3,000 square feet of ground-floor retail added to existing townhomes.
Placed in Context
While the Marriott Marquis was designed as an iconic building to attract attention to the convention center, Columbia Place is intended to be more contextual to the neighborhood. Integrating the local history and surrounding scale into the project was paramount in the design thinking.
To help determine what remains "old" and what becomes "new," we tapped our in-house historic preservationist to document the buildings and followed the guidance of multiple, neighborhood groups, including the Historic Preservation Review Board, The D.C. Preservation League, The Mayor's Agent and the National Capital Planning Commission.
A key design component of the LEED Silver project is the inclusion of historical row houses and existing buildings. A three-story, 160-year-old Civil War-era townhome was relocated using railroad tracks and incorporated within the dual-brand hotel as a high-end board room for meetings. Seven additional historic buildings and the existing Lurgan apartment building were also restored and reused for street-level retail, further enhancing the residential experience and preserving the area's authenticity.
Neighborhood charm can be found in abundance on 9th Street, one of the area's main streets, where it was particularly important to appear smaller in scale. This strategy aligns with how the street was originally intended and with D.C.'s long-term development strategy. According to an Act of Congress referred to as the Height of Buildings Act of 1910, the maximum building height allowed is 110 feet. Embracing the historic structures helped these buildings to express the transitional scale of the streets.
The Residence Inn and Courtyard by Marriott share amenities and back-of-house operations.
Considering the density of Columbia Place's 1.6-acres and the height limit imposed by the zoning, the historic buildings are incorporated using a massing approach, so each elevation met the city planning strategies, while also adhering to design standards required by the hospitality brands.
Meanwhile on L Street, taller-building massing plays into the design, relating to the larger-scale apartment homes overlooking Massachusetts Avenue. With a transitional approach to the architectural character, the facades along L Street are created from a blend of brick masonry, terracotta, glass and metal panels.
These two design strategies meet at the corner of 9th and L Streets, where the architectural style takes its cues from the Marriott Marquis. As one travels up 9th street, the buildings are set back at least 40 feet, so the scale of the taller building mass does not conflict with the lower scale of the preserved townhomes.
In March of 2015, the project received approval by the Zoning Commission. In late 2018, the dual-branded hotel welcomed guests with one Marriott stay, two ways.
Two is Greater than One
To appeal to the preferences of both business and leisure travelers-and their various price points-Marriott chose to combine its Courtyard and Residence Inn in a dual-branded hotel which shares amenities and back-of-house operations to create a one-of-a-kind experience for guests.
While the Marriott Marquis is a true convention hotel, the Residence Inn offers an extended-stay option and the Courtyard caters to select-serve guests at a higher quality than what is typically seen in comparable hotels. This is apparent in design finishes throughout the interior and exterior, upgrades to the mechanical systems and structural systems, and even a strategy for providing room service, which is rare for a select-serve brand.
Instead of stacking two hotels with separate check-in locations on top of each other, this dual-branded hotel is completely integrated. There is one check-in location, all the common spaces are brand neutral and, in some instances, a Residence Inn room and Courtyard room are located side by side.
The joint property's high-end amenities include complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the building, on-site guest laundry and a 24-hour grab-and-go market. Guests of either brand can also enjoy access to a rooftop fitness center with separate yoga space as well as a business center with a boarding pass printing station that boasts views of downtown Washington and the U.S. Capitol.
On the third floor, a variety of spacious meeting options, ballroom and an outdoor terrace overlooking an interior courtyard can play host to functions and weddings - yet another elevated offering.
A Destination for D.C.'s Next Generation
The Columbia Place puzzle wouldn't be complete without its residential piece.
To meet density requirements and receive approval from the D.C. Zoning Commission as a Planned Urban Development (PUD), residential units were one of the valuable parts which contribute to the whole.
Named The Lurgan, the collective 203 apartments include a combination of new units and renovated units built into the historic Lurgan apartment building. Residents have access to private amenities separate from hotel guests, such as an outdoor courtyard ideal for lounging, reading and hammock napping as well as a fresh-air rooftop lounge area with an outdoor pool, cabanas, patios and views of the Washington Monument. The Lurgan also boasts bike storage, an exercise facility on the ground floor and other contemporary conveniences like Bluetooth keyless entry-making it easier for people to hold hot lattes or a pet leash instead.
The fact this historic building continues to serve its original, intended use for the community was an added bonus. Building upon its origins, The Lurgan is yet another way that Columbia Place strikes an artful balance between what's old and what's new.
Now complete and home to a new generation, Columbia Place has achieved its goal as a mixed-use destination that is contextual in nature, complements the city's iconic Marriott Marquis hotel and Walter E. Washington Convention Center, and most importantly, ensures the neighborhood's history will be celebrated for years to come.
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