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Old October 16th, 2008, 07:17 AM   #1
hkskyline
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Skyscrapers for Washington DC?

Scarce land could mean skyscrapers in Washington, company in DC skyline for monument, Capitol
11 October 2008



WASHINGTON (AP) - No skyscrapers jut from this low-lying federal city, allowing iconic buildings like the Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol to dominate the horizon.

However, the historically sparse skyline might not stay that way.

As vacant land disappears in Washington, concerns about high real estate prices are fueling debate on whether developers should be allowed to build taller, which is prevented under a century-old law.

Land scarcity and concerns about the need to curb suburban sprawl have even spawned talk of eventually bringing office towers to a city long known for its picturesque views, sunlit streets and compact buildings. Within 15 years, according to one analysis, no more space will be available in a 3.5-mile stretch from Georgetown to Capitol Hill.

Christopher Leinberger, a land use strategist and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank, warns that unless more room is found, the artificial cap on space will further inflate already soaring downtown real estate prices, which rank second behind Manhattan.

As a result, only the wealthiest businesses and residents will be able to stay in Washington, stunting the city's tax base.

Contrary to popular lore, the city's low-lying skyline has nothing to do with preserving the prominence of the Washington Monument's 555-foot stone obelisk.

In fact, Congress -- which has oversight over the capital -- passed the Height Act of 1910 in response to residents' outrage over the 14-story Cairo apartment building erected in 1894 near Dupont Circle, towering over nearby rowhouses. Besides concerns about aesthetics, there also was a desire to prevent buildings from becoming too tall for fire engine ladders.

The law limits building heights to the width of the adjacent street plus 20 feet. There have been several exceptions to allow for construction of the National Cathedral and Georgetown University Hospital. Otherwise, the Height Act has capped most buildings at 130 feet, though heights of 160 feet are permitted on certain areas of Pennsylvania Avenue.

For plenty of influential Washington planners, the idea of altering the city's skyline borders on blasphemy.

"I think it's very important to recognize the real uniqueness of Washington's physical character, certainly compared to any other American city," said Thomas Luebke, the secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. He called the city's skyline "a national symbol."

Critics also include Marcel Acosta, executive director of the National Capital Planning Commission. He argues that unlike parts of New York and Chicago, Washington's streets are much more welcoming to pedestrians, thanks to plentiful sunlight.

"In a world of cookie-cutter cities, this is one of our great advantages," he said.

Still, Gerry Widdicombe, director of economic development for the Downtown DC Business Improvement District, said the city's height restrictions will get increasing attention as space for new development continues to shrink.

The nonprofit group projects that 57 million square feet of space remains for offices, shops and apartments in central Washington. Whether that space vanishes in 15 years, or perhaps 30, could depend on how badly the city is affected by an economic downturn, Widdicombe said.

Washington wouldn't be the first traditionally low-lying city to see its skyline go vertical. Many European cities have created high-rise districts, such as London's Canary Wharf. And the Paris city council recently voted to consider erecting tall buildings on the edge of the French capital.

In the U.S., Los Angeles limited most buildings to 150 feet until 1957 because of concerns about earthquakes, said Witold Rybczynski, an architecture critic and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. And Philadelphia had an informal rule until the 1980s that buildings remain lower than the 548-foot William Penn statue atop City Hall.

Besides lowering prices and slowing sprawl, proponents of taller buildings in D.C. note another upside -- moving away from what's been dubbed "The Washington Box." Many of the city's office buildings have long been disparaged for their low ceilings and square, unimaginative facades that seek to use every possible square foot rather than dazzling passers-by with elegant designs.

David Garrison, who has lived in Washington for 30 years, is among those who complain about the drab architecture, particularly along the high-powered K Street corridor. Yet for him, tall buildings marring the skyline would be even worse.

"I like the look and feel of the city," he said. "I'm used to it."

Whayne Quin, a lawyer who specializes in land use and urban planning, points to poor architecture, not the city's height limit, for the boxy buildings. He notes that many newer buildings are a vast improvement over those built decades ago.

Though Quin opposes wholesale changes to Washington's height limit, he is open to small modifications. He said one possibility could include allowing for higher density near mass transit, such as Metrorail.

In Leinberger's view, though, tinkering with the Height Act to allow a few extra floors here and there won't solve anything.

"The options are either out or up," he said. "At some point, either we're gong to deal with it or our children are going to deal with it."
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Old October 17th, 2008, 06:24 PM   #2
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I personally wouldn't like seeing 50+ story buildings pop up all over DC, but allowing for ones that are a little taller, like in Arlington, would be good.
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Old October 18th, 2008, 02:33 AM   #3
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Exactly. Raise the height limits in surrounding cities (like in Rosslyn, bethesda,etc) instead of ruining DC.
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Old October 18th, 2008, 04:28 PM   #4
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i'm a very big skyscraperfan...but i don't think washington should get skyscrapers. the city looks great without towers
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Old October 18th, 2008, 04:35 PM   #5
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Perhaps in the suburbs like in Paris.
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Old October 18th, 2008, 04:36 PM   #6
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Arlington(Rosslyn), Alexandria(Old Town), Tyson's Corner and Bethesda is a good choice. Putting Skyscrapers in downtown DC will just destroy the beauty of the the Capitol and the Washington Monument. I love seeing the Capitol from far away. Its totally unique. It reminds people that this is truly "The Capital" or "The Center". Imagine how people feel if the Capitol is covered by the Skyscrapers. I will be totally disappointed if its me.
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Old October 18th, 2008, 06:51 PM   #7
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Do you have a link to that article? I'd like to send it to some friends.

Mike
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Old October 18th, 2008, 08:11 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mgk920 View Post
Do you have a link to that article? I'd like to send it to some friends.

Mike
http://www.startribune.com/nation/30...KUnciatkEP7DhU
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Old October 18th, 2008, 09:27 PM   #9
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There is plenty of areas in DC that could be demolished and redeveloped instead of building upwards or spreading out.
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Old October 18th, 2008, 09:36 PM   #10
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The whole idea of the height limits was to make sure all the monuments were what dominated the skyline. Why not make a non-central district into DC's skyscraper district, or set them back from the mall a ways?
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Old October 19th, 2008, 03:20 AM   #11
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Bad idea. The aesthetic appeal of Washington would be compromised by allowing skyscrapers.

They allowed them in Ottawa and it's turned much of the city into a cookie cutter replica of every other city in Canada. Ottawa should have insisted on large, but low rise buildings that complimented the Canadian Parliament buildings, Supreme Court, and Chateau Laurier.

Washington should learn from Ottawa's mistakes. Don't do it!
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Old October 19th, 2008, 08:44 AM   #12
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Give the people what they want!
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Old October 19th, 2008, 01:31 PM   #13
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skyscrapers in washington would destroy the flair of the city IMO
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Old October 19th, 2008, 02:05 PM   #14
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A few buildings can't take away the character of a city. It will change the view from outside of the city, but not from the streets. D.C. will still be D.C.

Let them eat cake!
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Old October 19th, 2008, 02:06 PM   #15
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Its difficult to say, in one respect its preserving the city's beauty, in the other it is restricting the city's growth. Edinburgh suffers from this conundrum aswell, with Heritage freaks complaining about anything remotely modern looking.
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Old October 19th, 2008, 07:48 PM   #16
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Quote:
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Give the people what they want!
Exactly. People want Washington preserved for future generations instead of turned into just another cookie cutter city.
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Old October 20th, 2008, 01:12 AM   #17
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bleh

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Old October 20th, 2008, 04:24 AM   #18
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Thanx!

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Old October 20th, 2008, 04:31 AM   #19
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they should allow a quarter mile of land in DC for construction of buildings of unlimited height
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Old October 20th, 2008, 04:45 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by isaidso View Post
Bad idea. The aesthetic appeal of Washington would be compromised by allowing skyscrapers.

They allowed them in Ottawa and it's turned much of the city into a cookie cutter replica of every other city in Canada. Ottawa should have insisted on large, but low rise buildings that complimented the Canadian Parliament buildings, Supreme Court, and Chateau Laurier.

Washington should learn from Ottawa's mistakes. Don't do it!
Ottawa's "skyscrapers" hardly scrape the sky.
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