Healing the City: Planning, Design, and Preservation in Washington DC

October 16, 2017
Credit: Beyer Blinder Belle

Established in 2000, BBB’s DC office has developed into a major architectural practice with a portfolio of diverse projects and established relationships with the city’s architectural community and its most important review agencies. During this time, the office has been involved in several initiatives – combining city planning, urban design, and historic preservation – that are repairing and revitalizing previously neglected and underutilized areas of downtown DC. Below, we focus on Capitol Crossing in Washington’s Downtown East neighborhood, a transformative project that is “healing” the city.

For more than 40 years, DC’s northwest quadrant has suffered a large three-block-long and 200-foot-wide gash created by I-395. Running beneath the nation’s capital from New York Avenue down to the Southeast Freeway (I-695), it has long separated Capitol Hill from the East End. By 2020, however, the large gap in the city’s urban fabric will be repaired thanks to a major development by Property Group Partners (PGP) that will be built over the highway. Currently under construction, the mixed-use project includes five buildings with 2.2-million square feet of offices, apartments, public open spaces, and retail. BBB’s work with two cultural institutions, located a block apart on 3rd street NW within Capitol Crossing, is helping to heal the city and restore its historic fabric.

Cultural Anchors

Holy Rosary Church, located at 3rd and F Street, NW, was built to cater to DC’s growing Italian diaspora. Its Sanctuary, dated 1919, was designed by Boston’s renowned architects Maginnis & Walsh in the Early Italian Renaissance style and is clad in buff Indiana limestone with a later bell tower addition. When the proposed construction of the 1960’s center-Leg highway threatened to demolish the sanctuary, bell tower, rectory and assembly hall, Church parishioners sprang into action. With the help of a network of Italian-American WWII veterans and a powerful ally in Speaker of the House John McCormack, the highway was shifted eastward, saving the sanctuary, bell tower and assembly hall, but sacrificing the rectory, courtyard, and F Street frontage. The city financed a new rectory, constructed in what was previously the middle of F Street, severing an important view-shed toward Union Station and urban connectivity.

Congregants in front of newly completed Church.


Adas Israel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Washington DC, is a quaint, “stripped-down Romanesque Revival” masonry structure built in 1876 by German immigrants. It was threatened with demolition during the planning and construction of the new Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Headquarters (WMATA). The nascent Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) worked with district officials to have the building listed on the DC and National Register of Historic Places, and moved for protection to the corner of 3rd and G Streets NW. To fit the building in this land-locked location, they were forced to compromise the appropriate orientation. The Synagogue has remained in that location and was renovated to house the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum.

Adas Israel Synagogue congregants in front of site during soil bearing capacity test, circa 1875.


Cut off from Capitol Hill and Union Station, in a city rocked by the Race Riots of 1968 and hollowed out by the exodus of the middle class, Holy Rosary and Adas Israel nevertheless managed to survive. Focused on preserving tradition, culture, history, and language for subsequent generations, their influence grew beyond the immigrants who established them and they became cultural anchors. In turn, Capitol Crossing’s focus on architectural preservation, urban design, and contextual, contemporary construction will allow these longstanding neighborhood institutions to continue to grow and thrive. The development will return the structures to their historically-appropriate corner locations, restore F Street NW, and reconnect city neighborhoods, helping to heal this decades-long urban scar in DC’s urban fabric.

1916-1969 - Capitol Crossing site prior to construction of I-395.


Holy Rosary in Focus

At Holy Rosary Church, BBB completed the demolition of non-historic structures within the F street right-of-way in preparation for construction of the Capitol Crossing garage, atop which the Church’s new Rectory and School Annex addition will be located. To this end, the F Street NW view corridor, spanning two National Historic Landmarks – the Treasury Building and Union Station – will be restored. BBB has also completed schematic designs for PGP’s adjoining Center Block, including residential and office buildings. Construction-level design using advanced BIM modeling and clash detection has been completed for the Center Block’s incoming utilities, structural loading, below-grade building services, structural transitions, building core, vertical transportation, and street-level penetrations as part of an effort to make highway-spanning structure ready for the future development.

Demolition of Holy Rosary’s Rectory – March 2017.


Adas Israel in Focus

BBB worked closely with JHSGW for nearly a decade to renovate, preserve, and protect the historic Adas Israel Synagogue in preparation for its final relocation, an integral move within the Capitol Crossing master plan. BBB’s effort included: building and site condition assessments, window restoration and replacement plan, programming, test fit, blocking and stacking studies, and planning and massing studies for the Synagogue and Jewish Museum. BBB successfully managed the first move of the Synagogue to its temporary location, enabling current construction of the below-grade garage, atop which the Synagogue and future Jewish museum will have a permanent home. BBB is currently monitoring and protecting the Synagogue in its temporary location and will oversee the second move to the its permanent home at the southeast corner of 3rd and F Street NW, across the newly reconstituted F Street NW from Holy Rosary Church.

Adas Israel at G Street NW site.