I got lost last weekend, trying to bike to H Street NE, and ended up in NoMa. My god! I always joked that it looked like they were trying to replicate Clarendon, but it’s only gotten worse in the past months. The Post recently compared NoMa to SimCity, and that’s pretty spot-on. Much like H Street NE’s “gentrification,” NoMa was the product of top-down urban planning imperatives, not any organic process of development. They’re building a neighborhood from scratch, which is a really exciting and rare opportunity, when you think about it. So why is it so god damn boring?
The answer to that question in this particular case is also the answer to that question in almost every case: money. Developers are lazy. They don’t want to spend more money than they have to. The most efficient building, in terms of revenues-per-square-foot, is a big rectangular box. So that’s what they’re building. Big glass-and-chrome boxes that creep right up to the street and loom overhead. There are occasional gestures towards ornamentation – Archstone’s building has an interesting facade, for one example. (There’s no second example.) But the overwhelming majority of buildings in NoMa are cookie cutter suburban.
But the DC government is taking an interest in its little SimCity. They recently announced they were giving the neighborhood fifty million dollars to build parks, which would seem to indicate that they understand that aesthetics matter. So why not take it a step further, and mandate or incentivize some interesting buildings in NoMa? With dozens of projects in the pipeline, there’s no shortage of opportunity. As always, I have a few ideas.
Russian firm Za Bor Architects devised this building to take advantage of small urban spaces. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t drink in a place that looked like this. Just looking at it makes you feel kind of drunk.
This design is by Rem Koolhaas, for an unbuilt project called “Indian Tower,” in Mumbai. Planners could easily repurpose the design, distinguished by its wide “sky lobby,” for an office building in NoMa. You could have a food court in the middle there, and some great spaces for employee health/relaxation areas. (Ever done yoga with your coworkers? People who eat five burritos a week, and wash them down with vent chai lattes (extra whip) tend to get flatulent when they start stretching. Enough said.)
Koolhaas built this one for New York, but it never got off the ground. It might gain more traction in DC, especially among the right-leaning crowd. (Ba-dum ching!)
This design from Centrala, called the Keret House, was built in Warsaw, in the gap between two existing buildings. If you look at the full plans, it’s actually quite large inside. I’m thinking it could be the new home for Ibiza, the corny fog-machines-and-bottle-service NoMa club that’s been there for years. It’s only fitting that its new home would look exactly like a home pregnancy test.
The new Union Station design is basically just like the old Union Station; boring. This forward-thinking Dutch design is made for a world where water levels have risen due to global warming. It’s cool-looking AND practical! Think about it: there’s a reason NoMa was originally called “Swampoodle,” derived from “swamp puddle.” It’s the lowest ground in a city that’s basically all low ground. You’ll thank me for this in 75 years, when you barely make it through morning jetski traffic to catch your commuter barge to Baltimore.