|Takoma Walk Project Proposal Recognized with Charter Award from the Congress for the New Urbanism
Intricate mixed-used proposal integrates historic design while addressing site challenges
by Russell Boniface
How do you . . . design a mixed-use development that respects its surrounding neighborhood—residential and commercial—and navigates a dramatic change in grade?
Summary: Takoma Walk, a proposed mixed-use development in historic downtown Takoma Park, Md., calls for restoration of a historic building for 10,000 square feet of retail space, office space, plus a combined 70 walk-ups, penthouses, duplexes and flats, and mews units. The daunting challenges facing D.C.-based Cunningham + Quill Architects and developers ICG Properties and Keystar LLC included a dramatic grade change, unusually shaped site, changes in building use and scale, and blending with a historic community. The project recently received a 2007 Charter Award from the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) and a Design Award from AIA Northern Virginia.
Adaptive reuse respects historic fabric
The Takoma Walk project offers a mixed-use structure on an unusually shaped site in the city’s Old Town district. Currently, the site is home to a one-story retail strip built in 1941, a two-story 1920s Art Deco facade that once fronted the Takoma Motor Company, and a vacant lot. The proposed project restores the two-story façade and will be built above and behind it.
“We wanted to be respectful of the mass, density, and design of the historic community and retain its historic fabric,” says Stylianos Christofides, principal, ICG Properties. “Rather than put one huge mass on top of the existing structure, it becomes a conglomerate of buildings. The intent is for the site to read just as the current two-story construction of Takoma Park’s historic structures. Our concept would blend in and push back the mass of the building, refurbish the facade, and copy the historic elements like those of the windows. We would preserve as much as possible, and pedestrian spaces would be maintained.”
Leading the Cunningham + Quill Architects’ project are principal Lee Quill, AIA, and senior associate David Bagnoli, AIA. “Revitalization and adaptive reuse are very challenging because normally it’s a commercial strip at the edge of a residential block,” says Quill. “You need to sensitively intensify the use of what’s there but also work with the neighborhood.”
Blend with the ’hood
The entry point faces a busy commercial street; then the site drops more than 35 feet to an established single-family neighborhood of 1920s and 1930s bungalows. Walk-up and two-story live/work units for offices and retail would face this street, with duplexes above. Two glass penthouses on the upper level would form a single-angled butterfly. At its highest point, the structure becomes four stories to incorporate pavilion spaces. Bagnoli and Quill admit that the unusual shape, the dramatic grade change, and the change in use and scale with the neighborhood bungalows offered a unique challenge. To address this, they designed six two-story mews bungalows facing the neighborhood. The mews units blend with the design of the neighborhood bungalows but are contemporary flats and duplexes, all fronting pedestrian green spaces.
“The mews units down the hill complete the transition in scale to the bungalow neighborhood from the upper residential and retail mass above. The transition also provides for pedestrian activity,” explains Bagnoli. Adds Quill, “The tail of the site inserts itself into the interior of a full block, which has residential to the east, single-family bungalows to the south, and commercial building to the west, so that part of the site really is a transition piece. We felt it was important to break the scale down in this part of the project so that buildings are responsive to the surrounding neighborhood.”
Christofides agrees with this concept. “We wanted to expand our site toward the two-story bungalow craftsmanship of the neighborhood and lower our scale to match. Takoma Walk is a four-story structure at its highest point. It then drops to a two-story as you follow the grade all the way to the mews units, which match the neighborhood’s design. We understood that in order to mesh and be respectful we couldn’t have a massive structure and a wall to our neighbors.”
Individually expressive, yet sensitive to bungalow design
“Takoma Park has a sense of being a bungalow neighborhood,” Bagnoli explains. “We noticed its deep overhangs, roof brackets, eaves, and absorbed and attached porches, so we approached our project with a sensitivity to that and allowed a synthesis of that information.” Quill adds that this included sensitivity to the overall scale of the village and its bungalow details—such as primary, secondary, and tertiary façades—as well as the articulation of window components.
“There was sensitivity to a brick building on the corner before you hit our live/work building units,” says Bagnoli. “We don’t own it, so we worked around it. At the same time, we wanted the project to be expressive of this time, with a change in material and color as you move vertically. We wanted it to rise to a yellow stone mass with the glass roof and the butterfly, and have a lot of asymmetry with the elevations, balconies, and windows.”
While the mews units integrate with the neighborhood, Bagnoli points out that the mews add openness, light, and garden areas to absorb runoff. “In between those mews units are either a garden or a set of stairs to get you to the upper level, where there are back gardens for entering the units.”
Parking is underground. “By putting the parking below, we could turn the concrete decks into green platforms to build the bungalow pavilion pieces on,” Quill notes. “What was going to be exposed was going to be green.”