Judging Buildings


I can’t remember if we’ve done this building before but it’s worth another look. It’s so unusual to see a building like this in the Dupont area on P Street between 16th and 17th. It’s pretty sweet they all have garages. What do you think of the style – thumbs up or down?

62 Comment

  • Almost has a Tudor style flavor to it. And not having to park on the street is a double plus. I dig it!

  • while it may be great for the homeowner to have a garage it is poor urban planning. Furthermore. FUGLY

  • F-U-G-L-Y

  • Hate the curb cuts. Go in from the alley.

  • How is this poor urban planning? Not being snarky- just don’t see the drawback.

  • How is this poor urban planning? Not being snarky- just don’t see the drawback.

  • It’s poor urban planning because the curb cuts for the “driveways” detract from the pedestrian experience — indeed it can make it more dangerous to walk there because you always have to be on the lookout for cars going in and out of each of those four garages. One entryway into the alley is plenty!

  • In other words, this type of design prioritizes the car over the pedestrian in an environment where it should be entirely the other way around.

  • Always wonder when I walk by how in the world they got the city to approve this many curb cuts.

  • And if there was an alley, you’d have to be on the lookout for cars going in and out of the alley. Whats the difference? If you’re going to be walking anywhere, pay attention.

  • makes the street inhospitable, no windows looking out on it. bad urban planning 101. a single curb cut is all that’s needed for an alley serving a whole block.

  • Not only do the curb cuts mean a pedestrian has to dodge cars going in and out, my experience has been that often the owners have cars parked in the “drive” portion, which is too short for most cars. So you end up having to dodge around cars blocking the sidewalk – God forbid you’re in a wheelchair.

    I also don’t like the basement level garages (there are similar buildings at the corner of 14th and Rhode Island that have the same garage set up), because it looks too much like suburban townhouses. In the city, the car should not be such a central feature of any building.

  • I agree with the curb cut observation, but I like that the garages are so small that they eliminate giant SUVs as an option.

  • what iammrben said.
    For me, it doesn’t matter how awesome the design is (and I’m not keen on this example)… But even if it’s totally classic DC rowhouse architecture, but sitting on top of a front-loading garage & curb-cut, it transforms the whole damned scene into some wretched suburban sh*thouse in Aspen Hill or Rockville or Franconia or something. It’s a vibe destroyer. A stealer of souls.

  • they are vulgar and disgusting. nothing about them fits the surroundings, and the garages on the front of the building are ridiculously out-of-place. yuck!

  • Well said, Intangible Arts! I hate it when my vibe is destroyed and my soul sucked.

  • Wow, look at all the Junior Urban Planners joining in! While these are indeed “curb cuts” they aren’t the kind that “need” to be outlawed because they are not in heavy use. If you have a business that gets deliveries, a building with many units, etc., then by all means there should not be an additional curb cut to allow access to a loading dock that could be placed in an existing alley. In addition, I used to live around the corner from these houses and the cars never blocked the sidewalk in front (check out Google Street views and you’ll see a car parked in the driveway that isn’t bothering any of the passing pedestrians).

    Now, I do agree that these shouldn’t have been allowed for purely aesthetic reasons (looks less like a city and more like suburbia), but I imagine they were built when people were going bat-sh** crazy about every buidling being able to support their own parking, and there is no alleyway to allow these garages to be put in the back (on either side there is a drive leading to an underground parking structure for the surrounding buildings).

  • it is poor urban planning because the only street presence of the structure are the garage doors. They create an alienating effect. The structures in this neighborhood typically have a large stoop, a prominent entry door, and some sort of vegetative landscaping. These buildings have nothing but a flat facade and concrete. Bad.

  • I’m just going to go with straight up ugly…I feel bad for the people that live there.

  • I agree with the anti-garage people above. The windows are pretty cool, but the garages kill these for me.

  • and I would like to add, in response to Think Think About It, that I actually have architectural training. I’m not just making big words up for the purposes of posting a comment.

  • I sort of like them in a “they’re so ugly” sort of way. That being said, I’m not sure I would want to live there.

  • I’ve been having a little contest to see which blog commenters are more obnoxiously judgmental, here or greatergreaterwashington.org.

    It’s a close contest. This post (and the GDON posts) may have pushed POP into the lead. I think everyone who posts here should put up a picture of their own houses, so that everyone can crap on any minute detail.

    You people need lives, or hobbies.

  • This is a weird block period. You’ve got these townhomes on one side, along with the sides of buildings and the entrance to an office building, plus like a thousand driveways, and then across the street you’ve got the side of a church with a huge alleyway, the basketball courts (or whatever they’ll be once the construction is done), luna/skewers and bua thai in townhouses, and the empty side of a CVS with stairs down to an emergency/fire exit for a blockbuster. I don’t like the townhomes, but they are actually an improvement over almost everything else on that block (with the exception of the restaurants and basketball courts).

  • we have a hobby – crapping on the minute details of everything posted on PoP

  • It doesn’t even take “Junior Urban Planners” to know that this design is bad for the urban fabric. Should never have been allowed to happen.

  • haha, this thread definitely seemed to have a lot of cross-posting ideas with those at greatergreaterwashington, especially with the whole curb cut issue.

    IMHO, there is some truth to the harshness of the street level garage dominance. If there was a viable alley alternative, I think it would be preferable for several reasons (less concrete, more trees, human scale, and ‘eyes on the street’ defensible space at this front facade). It’s not clear from the photo if there even is an alley, though.

    From the resident’s perspective, I bet traffic noise is a bitch on the ground floor, so having uninhabited garage space facing the busy road is probably a good use of space. Let’s think about total solutions here – there are many more factors determining the ‘best design’ of this block than simply curb cuts.

    Overall, though, I agree the building is FUGLY. And it does speak to a cultural assumption of “cars before people” that should be reversed.

  • Oh, and some of us actually ARE urban planners, thank you.

  • Dang, Eric, you beat me to it! 🙂

  • Yeah, I vote for fug. What amazes me is I’ve walked down this block hundreds of times and have somehow blocked out this row of houses from my memory, apparently because of their ugliness.

  • One of the ugliest few houses I’ve seen in the area. Gross!

  • I walk by there on my way to and from work. Not crazy about the design, but I cant say it takes away from my experience as a pedestrian as a whole. Maybe if the whole block looked the same that would be the case, but it is just these two places. Love the neighborhood, though. Would definitely live in one of those row houses if it was something I could afford, and park my car in my own garage and then rarely use it. Parking in that neighborhood sucks (even if more or less unnecessary because it is an incredibly pedestrian friendly area). As for the curb cuts, I can say that I have never seen a car enter or leave the garages, but often dodge cars coming in and out of the alley to the right (the alley seems to have a poor sight line for drivers). So feel free to file that under “worthless personal anecdote” if you like.

    The basketball courts and playground across the street look great after the renovation a little while back (complete with mini climbing wall?!).

  • those are houses? I thought it was a Fugasaurous Rex. Should have but a Small Apartment building there. and for the people defending curb cuts for private townhouses. next time you are walking along a nice tree lined street of old wardmans. just ask yourself what it would look like if they all had curb cuts.

  • I think those are $1m+ townhouses if I remember the sale information I saw when I was looking at a list of comps recently (the place I was looking at was nowhere near $1m, but these were on the sheet anyway).

  • And imagine if old Wardmans had garages in them!

  • to me the worst part about the curb cuts is that it eliminates the tree lane. where. someone could have planted some big ass trees to hide those FUGLY houses.

  • I was walking along park rd from CH to MTP and noticed the one old house that has a front curb cut. Its a row of old 1900s rowhouses. I dont think the strip of them has alley access and I guess one of the owners appealed for a curb cut to park out front. its hidious. nowhere is it written that parking on your property is a right. Thankfully the city is smarter about these issues now and I doubt all the neighbors could do the same. thanks god for that. if they all did it there would be no tree lane and no front yards and that row of houses would be ruined.

  • there are a couple old houses in MTP that have built front yard garages into them. they are eyesores of course but some people dont care about aesthetics or historical integrity or what it does to the neighborhood that we all have to live in together. they just want whats most conveient for THEM. Makes me happy that MTP is now a historic district.

  • I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but so many people in this town love to tell other people what they should or should not do! I can understand public safety concerns, but aesthetic concerns? I’d hate to see what kind of debate would be generated concerning that brutalist church near the white house (“It’s ugly—but it’s historic—-arrghh, ayyyyee, my head is gonna blow!”).

  • Wow- I guess I got the answers I expected. Reminds me of why I can’t wait to move to S.F. in May.

  • actually, it used to be that street level garages were considered GOOD urban planning.

    half of the homes in the city of San Francisco (rowhouses and SFRs) have a street level garage under two or three floors of habitable space. beginning in the 50’s, new construction required at least one off-street parking space to reduce the density of the street. and in an urban setting with no significant yard space, the basement or first floor were pretty much the only options.


  • The Church of Christ, Scientist is actually pretty damn cool – and the Brutalist style is quite appealing. I work around the corner from it and admire it every day. Glad the DC council blocked its destruction. So Long – Don’t let the door hit you on your way out!

  • @Think Think, you are correct in that public safety is of paramount concern – that’s why architects, engineers and landscape architects must be licensed, and the exam is all about “IS IT SAFE”, and not “IS IT GOOD DESIGN”.

    However, there are other considerations to successful urban design than just safety. Purely engineered landscapes where cars can get around perfectly safely are seldom great places for people. There’s a middle ground that considers factors other than safety and aesthetics. There’s economic considerations for having places where people are active throughout the day and night, crime considerations for having engaged in what is happening on the street, and environmental reasons for having trees that shade heat-absorbing concrete and detain rain bursts that would send sewage overflowing into our rivers.

    The so called “police powers” that give certain people the right to tell other people what to do in our society include power to protect “health, safety and public welfare.” Not only do they give police the power to arrest someone, but they are also the basis for health regulations, zoning ordinances, and all other civic institutions. That “public welfare” bit is what makes all of these issues of how our streets function such an issue beyond pure concern for safety.

  • Thanks for the anonymous well wishes. Takes a big person.

  • The last time I walked by these, my friend and I commented on how ugly the garages are (from the street/pedestrian level) and we speculated that the developer was probably required to provide parking for the units they built. We also observed that the garages are so narrow that you would need a skinny car in order to both fit in the garage and then be able to open your car door and have enough room to get out!
    PoP, there is a row of houses in MtP with similar garages if you’re interested in taking a pic to judge those as well (corner of Park &18th). I think it’s ironic that someone said WE need to get a life, when that person has been spending their time comparing the comments sections of two blogs against each other.

  • @Jim, while that may have been true for SF at the time, I believe people are reacting to a different point now. First, density in Dupont and for much of the new construction in DC is much higher than shown in your example photos. Also, I think many posters are coflating the argument about garages in a purely residential building with discussions of an ideal fabric for an urban area which also includes mixed use and commercial uses. Sure, no one likes to live on the first floor on a busy street. And there’s lots of other pie-in-the-sky alternatives (why does the first floor need to be residential at all? why do they need private garages? this building is near a metro, could they share one zipcar spot? Couldn’t this have been developed as condos over retail?) But all that changes the question at hand.

    Personally, I think using shared driveways (thus having only 2 curb cuts for 4 garages) was a smart idea. If you look on google maps, there is no alley. On both sides of this building there are ramps down to an underground parking garage. For this particular building, they did an okay job considering the limited options they had. It’s just an ugly building, that’s all.

  • Although I agree that the garages are ugly, I’m always a little depressed when I look out my window at the pretty streets of rowhouses, and have to see both sides of the road lined with cars. Ugly cars have become a normal part of the urban aesthetic and it stinks! At least these people can hide their ugly cars in their ugly garages instead of in front of my rowhouse!

  • @Larchie. Sorry, I didn’t realize that these townhomes were destroying our health, safety and public welfare. I just thought they were ugly, but didn’t think the curb cuts caused much of a safety concern in this particular case b/c cars rarely pull in and out of those driveways. I’m glad “certain people” (apparently blog commenters, who knew?) have “the right” to tell others what to do in “our” society.

    @DC_Chica: Those Mt. P townhomes were on a rerun of some HGTV network show a week or two ago! I think it was one of those “what is my house worth” shows.

  • Just read on Wash Post that the Apple store design was rejected AGAIN. Goodness, this is why I personally don’t like “certain people” having so much power to tell others what they can and cannot do. But maybe I just like areas that grow organically (see U Street, Mt. P, even Adam Mo) and don’t look like Disney theme park recreations of a city (Gallary Place, anyone?).

  • I’ve live in homes in Gallery Place, Petworth, and Columbia Heights and can easily say the my neighbors in Gallery Place are more diverse politically, racially, and economically than CH or Petworth. It’s easy to bash someone else’s hood online, but I know manu of my neighbors from Petworth would have loved some of the development CH or Gallery Place have- and some of the great restaurants down here. BTW, the garages are sweet- I hate having to look for parking for my gas guzzler, though it does eliminate the possibility of dooring a biker.

  • Curb-cut-tastic. Yuck. DC is supposedly not so willing to approve curb cuts anymore. We shall see.

  • crap. curb cuts. garages. car friendly. drivers hit bicyclists as they pull out of said garages. total crap.

  • “don’t like ‘certain people’ having so much power to tell others what they can and cannot do. But maybe I just like areas that grow organically (see U Street, Mt. P, even Adam Mo)”

    You must be joking about Mt.P….

  • Obviously the architects weren’t thinking about curb appeal ’cause that doesn’t have a speck of it.

    A realtor would have the statistic, but don’t some people drive by a house and and decide based on the outside if it is something they want to look at? Hopefully the location and the inside make up for the lack of attractiveness on the outside.

  • UGLY AS SIN–tear them down now

  • hey anonymous like three above me: for the record, admo was not organic. an investor came in several years ago, bought a bunch of properties, and then turned them into bars and restaurants. the rest came after that. this same investor is now responsible for the “atlas district” along h st ne. Not organic, but the investor is most certianly an asset to the city.

  • I LOVE them

  • required by law are parking spaces for residential units.

    and yeah if you take the number of pedestrian trips across the curb cut and divide it by the number of times the cars actually cross the sidewalk, you’ll see the ratio is incredible in favor of very safe pedestrian and bike travel.

    furthermore, these houses were built when even calling this area dupont east didnt have a cache. this was a total risk at the time.

    finally, who wants to live on the street level of a busy street, when we need people to live downtown?

    so yeah they’re ugly, but the posters here rarely have much sense of reality, laws, history or common sense.

    same people who complain about developments not having enough parking because it will clog the street parking when their own houses don’t have parking.


  • I prefer front doors, stoops, and gardens instead of curb cuts and garage doors. These are the type of community-killing buildings I purposely moved into the city to avoid.

  • I’m confused. Are these garages capable of accomodating two cars each? There are only 4 bays, and the curb cuts eliminate at least 3 parking spots on the street. What did we accomplish beyond moving three public parking spots on to private land, where they only benefit the owner? I know someone is going to say that the owners “have a right” to the use of their land. That’s sort of bullshit, since the access they built to get to “their land” resulted in a decrease in utility for the public land adjoining them. And for no net benefit.

    I don’t believe that neighbors should have any right to dictate aesthetics to each other, but public parking spots are a collective concern.

  • The garages might be tandem 2 car garages, but probably are single car garages. You might count the driveway as a tandem spot as well (hard to tell in the photo), so the current building provides at least 4, probably 8 private spaces.

    It’s not clear from the photo if there even would be street parking there anyway, given the 2 ramps on either side of the building – sight distance would probably dictate that there would be no street parking in front of the building.

    I’m not sure if the city lets you count a driveway tandem space as part of the required parking. I know from work experience that Fairfax County doesn’t let you count them since most people use their garage for storage and park in the driveway. This is also the case in the alley in Petworth behind my own home – many people use their garages for storage and park in the street. Someday I should count and come up with an actual percentage for my neighborhood. Anyone else seen this phenomenon?

  • You may find the history of the introduction of these residences into the neighborhood interesting…
    At the time they were proposed, there was outrage from the community preservationists . However, the developers, with the sanction of the DC Gov’t., prevailed.

    While DC has always been a “walkable” city, periods of high crime (remember when we were the murder capital?) effect peoples willingness to hoof it after dark. Back when these places were built, convenience and security were a major factor in their marketability.

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