September 26, 2005
Image Courtesy Hickok Warner
The Watergate Hotel, part of the Washington,
D.C. complex made famous by the Nixon administrations
political scandal, is being transformed into condos. D.C.-based
Monument Realty has chosen local firm Hickok Warner Cole Architects
to convert the 13-story, 251-room establishment along the
Potomac River into a 104-unit luxury residential co-op. The
project is scheduled to open in late 2007. Dallas-based Forrest
Perkins and Toronto-based Yabu Pushelberg, are also working
on the project.
For many, Watergate conjures
a break-in at the Democratic National Committees headquarters
(in the office building that is perpendicular to the former
hotel), erased segments of taped conversations, and a critical
informant thatuntil just recentlyremained anonymous.
But the legendary compound, which was completed in 1971, has
another tainted association: it was designed by Luigi Moretti,
the Italian architect who became a fascist, and prospered
under Benito Mussolinis rule. Considered a mid-20th-century
Modernist, Morettis interest in both curves and light
generated the Watergates unique shapes and details,
that engage the sites riverside edge.
Although interested in changing its use
and modernizing its services, the developer asked the architects
not to alter the buildings exterior. Just this year,
the project was placed on the District of Columbias
Inventory of Historic Sitesa move that originally grew
out of local opposition to the hotel-to-residence conversion
The interior , however,will be stripped
to its concrete bones and reconfigured into ultra high-end
apartments. Quite a complicated task.
We had to turn somersaults,
says Frank Durkin, an associate at Hickok Warner Cole, to
fit the new, expanded units into the existing 16-foot column
bays, 8-foot ceiling heights, and curved curtain-wall exterior.
For example, to avoid dropped ceilings, the architects specified
multiple mechanical systems so that all ductwork would run
vertically. This has required numerous penetrations within
the existing40-year-old concrete slabs. To compensate for
any diminished structural capacity within the floor plates,
the contractor is strengthening the area around each hole
with a fiber-reinforced polymer tape, developed with carbon
fibers through the nascent field of nanotechnology. Ten years
ago, without this very new and highly advanced building material,
we couldnt have done this job, notes Durkin.
Durkin believes that the unique views
provided by the site (all units see the river because the
building is perpendicular to the Potomac) and the attention
that is being paid to detailing will more than compensate
for the challenges the architects face in fitting luxury housing
within the existing building.