How the Dumbarton Oaks Fellowship House received an award-winning, modern twist
by Lorelei K. Harloe
November 20, 2017

AWashington, D.C., historic landmark demonstrates design ingenuity by combining fired-clay brick with complementary natural materials and a whole building approach. Designed and entered by Cunningham | Quill Architects PLLC, the Dumbarton Oaks Fellowship House project earned a best-in-class award in the renovation/restoration category in the Brick Industry Association’s (BIA) 2017 Brick in Architecture Awards. BIA’s annual competition honors outstanding and resilient design that incorporates clay brick.

The Dumbarton Oaks Fellowship House is an adaptive reuse project with large, new additions to a 1950s commercial brick masonry building in the historic Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The new building provides 25 dwelling units for Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection’s annual student fellows and their families, as well as public spaces for the community.

According to the awards entry, the project’s main challenge was to take a very irregular site and reintegrate it into the existing Georgetown grid. The new addition is rotated to take advantage of the site’s shape, while maintaining the integrity of the original building and creating usable outdoor space. Many measures to upgrade, improve and add to the existing bones were employed to provide a robust program within this confined, urban footprint. The building utilizes traditional building materials to complement the surrounding historic architecture, but innovation is achieved through the brick and copper detailing and the numerous sustainable measures implemented, but it is not readily visible.

“Early in the design process, the team explored myriad massing strategies to marry the new, significantly larger program into the existing masonry building,” said David Coxson, project designer at Cunningham | Quill Architects PLLC. “However, the selection of brick as the primary material for the additions was an early and natural choice for the design team. It allows the new additions to intersect relatively seamlessly into the existing massing and into the context of the historical Georgetown neighborhood within which the site is set.”

The architectural and landscape history and how they relate to the central mission of Dumbarton Oaks main campus, a historically brick campus with an encyclopedic selection of brick detailing, informed the design of the Fellowship House. Boasting an architectural and landscape confluence of McKim, Mead and White, Beatrix Ferrand, Phillip Johnson and Robert Venturi, the main campus is both playful and formal, with old and new meshing consistently throughout the grounds.

The Fellowship House, located on a tight corner lot fronting a commercial corridor and surrounded by historic residential neighborhoods, pursued this concept and use of materials. Traditional materials ease the building into its historic context and blend the new additions seamlessly into the existing building. The small, brick- and copper-clad residential bays of the additions are intended to recall the scale and precedent of brick-clad townhomes lining the adjacent residential streets.

The Flemish bond pattern with accented headers was employed tor the new brick additions to achieve a juxtaposition with the existing building. A stainless-steel cable trellis system laid in a diamond pattern allows vertical plantings to rise up the new brick additions and front entrance of the building. These green walls provide a modern twist on a traditional material, and allow for passive shading and soften the building within the residential context.

Dwelling units are configured into furnished studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom arrangements, with multiuse spaces at the upper and lower levels of the building. The new programming includes the Garden Room (a Fellows gathering place), the Oak Room (presentation space), a commercial kitchen and an outdoor terrace. A fitness room, soundproof music room, common lounge, laundry room, bike room and storage room are in the basement. The third-story addition, within the extent of the existing building footprint, and the three-story new additions on the north, west and south elevations employ brick veneer construction with oversized brick to match the existing. This strategy allowed for the additions to blend seamlessly into the existing footprint and site.

To play off the ubiquitous material palette of brick façades and copper roofing and trim in Georgetown, Coxson said the design team explored methods in which these two materials could be interwoven. The solution was to have the brick, in a Flemish bond pattern, serve as the primary material, which anchors the additions to the site and to the existing building, while the flat-seam, copper paneling wrapped the projecting bays and penthouse in a running bond pattern. This technique allowed the copper to act as the lighter material for the forms, which floated above the ground plane. To avoid the bright penny finish of plain copper juxtaposed with the red brick, the design team specified a preoxidized copper panel, which has a natural brown, bronze oxide finish. While the copper panels will continue to weather naturally, it was important to the design team that these two materials would stand out from day one.

The project has achieved LEED Gold Certification from implementing sustainable strategies early in the design process, and adopted goals to improve energy efficiency to a level that is 30 percent better than ASHRAE 90.1 and 30 percent more than Harvard University’s 2009 Green Building Standards. Starting with the geothermal renewable energy system, the building utilizes an integrated “whole-building” design approach that succeeds in incorporating sustainable technologies and assemblies, such as green roofing and a stormwater vault, and with passive strategies, such as considerate glazing locations, daylighting, passive shading and cooling via window awnings and shutter elements.