Judging the Architecture at UDC – An Improvement?

by Prince Of Petworth January 14, 2016 at 10:22 pm 54 Comments

4200 Connecticut Avenue, NW

It kinda reminds me of what someone in the 1950s would think the future will look like. What do you guys think of the new student center at UDC? Certainly an improvement over what it used to be – maybe a fitting tribute for Marion Barry after all…


previously in 2012:

UDC-pre demo

And other buildings on campus:


  • GBinCH

    The new building looks like Sark’s carrier from the original Tron.

    • ANON

      For some reason I was thinking The Hall Of Justice from the Superfriends, but I just looked it up and that’s a bit off. Yeah, Sark’s carrier nails it.

  • MarkQ

    Pretty hideous to me. You think they could have used more glass to lighten and liven up the space.

    • CCDCresident

      I agree. They could have enclosed that hideous staircase and part of the front courtyard with an atrium. I would hate to walk up those stairs during the winter in snow or freezing rain. Too much maintenance requirements to shovel and keep those stairs safe.

  • jd

    I like it.

  • Kathy

    A few years late, 50% over budget. Yeah, that sounds like a DC project.

    Call me old fashioned, but considering UDC’s crippling yearly financial issues, its revolving door of program accreditation and its huge foot print of existing underutilized real estate with a backlog of deferred maintenance, I think that this was an incredibly poor use of money. Even more so because the rest of us paid for it.

    • textdoc


      • Accountering

        This thing should be a great community college and no more. Actually do something well, instead of just being a horrible last-choice university. Give DC residents a great 2-year degree (make it free!) and help them transfer to a good state school. This thing is a disaster.

        • Accountering

          To respond to my own comment, as someone who is in a position to make hiring decisions, I cannot fathom seeing a UDC degree and putting that resume anywhere but in the bin.

          • anon

            That’s really unfair. I know a bunch a idiots who had the money and connections to put Gtown on their resume, but it doesn’t make them any more competent for functioning in the real world.

          • udc law alum

            Wow, I’m glad my current and previous employers are not this close-minded. Obviously the college isn’t widely recognized or highly ranked, but the graduate programs do not deserve this sort of …trashing. I’m not just talking about the law school, which provides a ton of free legal services for underprivileged residents of the city and has a nationally ranked clinical program (which taught me more about being an attorney or practicing law than any book can). The speech pathology and other graduate programs hold their weight within the hiring community from what my friends have told me. Yes, the building is ugly and yes there have been issues with funding but there is not a single other affordable option in DC and without it I’m not sure many of the students have an opportunity to go to another school.

          • Anonamom

            I find this to be very elitist. However, we are in DC, and you are only speaking the truth as to how a lot of people in this city approach hiring.

          • Anon

            Didn’t you go to Ohio State?

          • TX2DC

            Wow. What a rude comment.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Agreed with all of the above. Rude, judgmental, elitist, and fairly representative of how hiring is actually done.

          • Philippe Lecheval

            Sounds like you should not be in a position to make hiring decisions. I’ve worked with plenty of people with fancy degrees from very expensive universities who were total morons.

          • Accountering

            Yes, I went to Ohio State. 10th best MAcc programm in the nation. I am also not in a position to hire law degree students or people in speech pathology.
            To your point that it gives people the opportunity who otherwise wouldn’t have had it – make the thing a great community college, and if a DC student graduates, pay full ride for them to go out of state to a real school. That seems to be a much better opportunity for those students, and likely cheaper for the city as well.
            I would hope I could weed out the idiots from Gtown in an interview, but if they have the competency to get into Gtown, that says something at least.

        • anon

          This is actually a fantastic idea.

        • MtP

          Agree wholeheartedly. Cheap/free community colleges provide a great service either by themselves or as a cheap transition to a 4-year degree.

    • jenster8dc

      Still faster than Metro can replace an escalator.

      • Gene

        UDC has never been a school with a function of educating. It’s function is to provide municipal jobs to countless District Government employees. Its atrociously low graduation rate is indicator enough.

        Look at it this way, with the 19% graduation rate of UDC and the enormous subsidy the District gives it every year, , the DC taxpayers are paying $210K per graduating student, PER YEAR! Paying full price to go to Harvard would be cheap in comparison, and oh…you would be getting a degree from Harvard.

        I’ve had two UDC resumes come across my desk over the years. I interviewed one of them, and it simply solidified my stance not to do it again.

        • anon

          Again, this is a pretty unfair position. Two year degree programs, for-profit schools, and any other community colleges frequently have lower graduation rates because the students face significant barriers such as family responsibilities, multiple jobs, and a host of stresses that don’t apply to the Harvard students. In addition, low income students likely arrive under-prepared, so the learning curve may be steep and discouraging. Have a little empathy! Not everyone is going to graduate “on time” but that doesn’t mean its not a benefit to our city to provide access to affordable higher education for people who may have no alternatives. Hell, I’m a UDC law grad, and because I graduated debt-free, I have the flexibility to take a position with a non-profit that advocates for social change.

        • anon

          dang, seems like hating on UDC is a meme here on PopVille… those who do so should stop being assholes and respect peoples’ desire to get an education. hopefully “Gene”, “Accountering”, etc. aren’t making any real hiring decisions.

    • ***

      Probably important to note that there was significant unforeseen existing conditions when they did the site excavation that impacted the schedule, including removing an 800′ long concrete slab that had been abandoned. That combined with the last couple of winters snow and cold set construction back. (this is all referenced on the UDC page for this building)

    • Anonymous

      The building was originally planned to be built according to LEED certification, but the city forced them to go for platinum certification, which greatly increased costs and probably time too.

  • Philippe Lecheval

    It’s not terrible, but I think it’ll look pretty worn out and dated 25 years from now.

    • ***

      The same could be said of the glass box office building plaque in DC right now.

    • Agree. Improvement over the old building? Yes. Could it still be better? Yes.

  • AnonV2

    So they went from Brutalist with horizontal windows to kinda Brutalist with vertical windows. Revolutionary.

  • DC225

    I don’t mind it. Do we really need yet another all-glass box?

  • Epic Fail

    I was hoping for something that looked more like Magdalen College at Oxford University or King’s College at Cambridge.

  • textdoc

    Not a fan. Some kind of pattern or symmetry with the windows (and wider windows that didn’t look like they came from a prison or a castle fortress) would have been nice.

  • Melbot87

    Why did they go with that ugly color? If they went with like a light grey it would have looked ok.

    • DC LAW

      There is a law in DC that all new buildings must employ hideous brown or beige brick. This is to ensure they don’t make the other buildings in the city feel bad. Now we have a city full of ugly brown buildings. Oh well.

  • kenhatesspam

    For some reason, it looks like a faux-futuristic church.

  • asdfasdf

    the pictures don’t do it any favors and do not show the two-toned differences in the paneling color. though the clock is a strange, unnecessary addition. did they add that projection just as a place to mount the clock? will it be accurate more than twice a day?

  • Anon

    Cleveland Park NIMBYs couldn’t ask for something nicer? Between the stultifying prison-slit windows and that majestic poop-brown color palette, it’s hard to imagine how this got approved by a presumably well-educated committee.

  • UDCstudent

    The real question, though: do the clocks work? (if you’ve ever taken classes there you’ll understand)

    • jenster8dc

      The clock does work! I was strangely delighted when I noticed it was running.

    • Anonymous

      I’ve taken Praxis tests there. I’m surprised ETS allows them to be a test site, given the many irregularities I witnessed that can invalidate scores (of which non-functioning clocks were just one).

  • Kate

    The building pictured in “previously” is still there, next to the new building. Nothing replaced anything, they just built a new building where there used to be an open area with benches and trees. It doesn’t make sense to discuss it as an improvement, or not, over the old building, which still exists right next to the new one.

    • An improvement over the current buildings/architecture – as also pictured in the last photo.

  • MtP

    I have watched this go up as I drive by it twice every day. It is certainly better than before, but I do think it could have been better. I will withhold judgment though until the construction facade is down and people are actually using it. If it creates a more vibrant public space, then it will have been a good thing. I read somewhere (maybe on here) that the architect is newish in the field and a UDC graduate from DC, so that is pretty cool.

  • jenster8dc

    I don’t mind it, but then, I don’t go to UDC. I certainly think it’s an improvement over the older, more down-at-heel buildings on the campus.

  • Brett M

    Dreadful. Something classic and timeless befits a university campus. It’s bad enough these poor souls to attend UDC, at least they could attend classes in decent looking buildings.

    Well look on the bright side, in 20 years, this will be razed because it will have been considered as ugly as we now consider the brutalist crap that was there before.

    • ***

      “Something classic and timeless befits a university campus” How terribly short-sighted and cliche. Locking a particular building typology into a set range of stylist moves prohibits rethinking architecture and design. Perhaps the “classic” university building doesn’t function for current education. Perhaps the university made a conscious decision to make their “front door” to the campus something new and interesting. I’m not arguing that this is perhaps the greatest piece of architecture in DC, but it is making an effort to do something unique.

      • Anon

        “something unique” – it’s not particularly difficult to build something unique for the simple sake of being unique. Making something unique AND attractive, on the other hand…

        • Brett M


          Well put. The far more short-sighted view is building something unique for the sake of being unique. We need lasting structures that will stand the test of time, not be considered ugly and outdated in a few years.

          As long as “starchitects” get to build everything in DC, we’ll continue producing crap like this.

          • ***

            Okay, first of all, this is not a “starchitect” building. Far from it. So let’s slow down on the pearl clutching. Second of all, I am pretty sure there were a lot of things that went into the design of this building more than it being “unique.” NYC has a variety of architectural styles, from historically preserved buildings to new, trendy building – which is part of what makes the city vibrant and interesting. DC is one of the blandest cities when it comes to architecture and design, which is largely due to this attitude that everything needs to adhere to this faux-federalist “timeless” style.

          • Anon

            I have absolutely nothing against modern design if it’s done well. Do you seriously think that this is an example of good design? Clashing design elements and all?

          • ***

            As I said, I’m not saying this is the greatest piece of architecture in DC. My point was that just because it’s a university campus shouldn’t restrict the design to some traditional definition of what university architecture should be, as the original poster has suggested. Honestly I would wonder how much of what the final product here was the intent/desire of the architect and how much of it was concessions to the conservative design review board.

          • Brett M

            DC has a greater variety of architecture than most cities in the world. People who say stuff like “DC is one of the blandest cities” really don’t know anything about DC’s architecture or haven’t been to places like Houston.

  • ***

    I think it’s important to note that this a Student Services building, not a classroom building. The programs within this building – fitness center, ballroom, cafeteria, and community/student spaces – are likely drivers of what influenced size and placement of windows, etc. Additionally this is a LEED platinum building. Read more here: http://www.udc.edu/facilities/featured_project_new_student_center_at_udc_van_ness_campus

  • Rich

    The generic 1970s brutalism of the original was a better fit to the site, also on a better scale. This seems buly and overmassed and obviously a mishmash of things.


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