Opinion Your Views — 03 October 2013
Carr Hospitality’s latest hotel 
design doesn’t even come close

To the editor:

Just released — and minimally revised — after a blisteringly bad first appraisal by the board of architectural review, the new vision for Carr Hospitality’s hotel remains menacing. While reducing the total room size by one and adding a thin, dark alleyway on the north side, nothing else has changed.

And that’s the problem. The remaining structure is a vulgar, massive eyesore of mundane, uninspired brick and stone, featuring aquarium-style windows along Union Street. The latter is part of a recent city fad expected to create vibrancy by offering diners’ mealtimes for your entertainment.

Where did this visionary hotel rendering come from? Obviously, it is a happy companion to the monstrous buildings built in the 1960s and ’70s that still mar the collection of splendid and well-maintained examples of architecture throughout the historic district.

The drawing marries the nasty building on the south side of Founders Park with the other out-of-scale office buildings abutting the river. The back patio is faced by an expanse of small paned windows (which obstruct insiders’ view of the river) and littered with the predictable pots of crepe myrtle and whatever.

Our planning department considers this public access. Entry to this patio probably will require you to buy a pricey drink. If you come with your family, the cost of a table might be an entire day’s wage — or more.

This massive brick structure will make an outsize contribution to the city’s already bad position with federal stormwater runoff requirements, which were described by the city in 2011 as impossible to comply with, even using every engineering and best practice on the market. As presented, this hotel is the ultimate historic preservation and ecological nightmare: Do as much harm as possible by building as densely as possible in as small a space as possible using the worst materials you can.

Stylistically, this hotel can be anywhere you might imagine: on the Orange Line corridor, where it would fit right in; at National Harbor, where it also would be right at home; or in North Dakota, where it would be a charming addition to the wide-open prairie. But sitting on the edge of a historically consistent, well-preserved and meticulously maintained collection of stylish Federal-period homes and gardens? No.

Where is the cobblestone alleyway? The green roof? The parking for guests and workers? A loading dock that isn’t hideously ugly and situated on a historically important street? Windows that aren’t obviously black, metal struts in a frame?

Other cities and firms respond to this type of challenge — a small space, in a place of great style and historic importance, bounded by a fragile river — by rising to the occasion and going beyond the ordinary. Here the occasion is not one of celebration at the offering, but one of deep despair and wonder that such a complete void of imagination is actually presented for serious consideration.

- Kathryn Papp
Alexandria

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(2) Readers Comments

  1. I kind of like it. It seems to incorporate both modern clean lines and traditional features for a nice combination which would fit the neighborhood and current time. It’s 2013 and I think the buildings of today should reflect that.

  2. I’ve looked at the original proposal and the revised one. At my workplace there is a framed print of the Alexandria waterfront, I’m guessing circa 1820. This structure pretty much matches the scale, form and materials of the warehouses in the print. The proposed building is certainly more in character and form than the existing featureless single story warehouse, and addresses the context better than most structures along Union, including houses.

    The complaints from the writer and typical, expected, and tiresome. “Vulgar, mundane, and uninspired”? please spare the hyperbole. Nothing would satisfy these people, except purchase of the property at the taxpayers expense to create “open space” for wealthy geriatric Old Townies to take their dogs for a dump. The stormwater issue is a red herring. The proposed structure has no more lot coverage than the existing structure, and better infrastructure for mitigation. This proposal is the kind of quality development that other riverside cities have had and promoted for decades. The form, materials, and site plan are respectful. Far from a generic “anywhere” structure, and a far cry from “monstrous” 60′s and 70′s commercial buildings in the city, not to mention some of the residences. Its a fine proposal. Build it.

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