On the evening of November 4, D.C. partygoers will converge on a renovated storefront space in the city’s Penn Quarter for cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a first look at Washington’s new hub for architecture and design.
Located just south of the National Portrait Gallery on Seventh Street NW, the District Architecture Center (DAC), opened on October 30 and houses the D.C. chapter of the AIA (including its foundation arm, the Washington Architectural Foundation), which for decades had operated out of a small townhouse near Dupont Circle. AIA/DC staff and board members hope that the new space—designed by a team from local firm Hickok Cole—will allow them to ramp up their activities to as many as 50 classes, lectures, and public programs per month. They also hope to challenge perceptions of D.C. as a bastion of traditional design dominated by federal buildings. The DAC will exhibit work both built and unbuilt in “a wide variety of styles and market sectors,” according to Jon Penndorf, a board member and the chapter’s president-elect for 2012.
The DAC occupies the first floor of an 8-story 1917 building, but AIA/DC leased and renovated the building’s basement as well, where the Alliance Francaise, a French language and cultural center, will move in as subtenant and stay for three or more years. On the DAC’s own 8,300-square-foot floor, a gallery faces the busy street, and behind it are classrooms that can be combined via sliding doors. Small offices for the chapter’s seven employees sit at back along with a catering kitchen (the space will be rented out to generate revenue, a common business model for architecture centers).
The design, featuring glass walls and a glass bridge, was selected from 17—all by District designers—that were entered into a week-long, blind juried competition last fall. Mary Fitch, executive director of AIA/DC, described the design as “incredibly transparent” and a welcome departure from the club-like atmosphere of the Dupont house which, with a capacity of about 40 and no exhibition space, “was kind of getting in the way of our mission”. To cover the project’s $1.5 million cost, AIA/DC solicited donations—including from Hickok Cole’s principals, who are major donors—as well as gifts in kind; the general contractor, Sigal Construction, donated its services. Fitch expects the project to be certified LEED Gold.
AIA/DC is one of several AIA chapters that have opened centers for architecture in recent years, following the example set by AIA New York, which opened in 2003. AIA San Francisco’s Center for Architecture + Design opened in 2006; the Dallas Center for Architecture opened two years later. A Frank Harmon-designed architecture center and headquarters for AIA North Carolinder construction in downtown Raleigh.