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Watergate Hotel to Become Condos


Image Courtesy Hickok Warner Cole Architects

The Watergate Hotel, part of the Washington, D.C. complex made famous by the Nixon administration’s 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 Committee’s headquarters (in the office building that is perpendicular to the former hotel), erased segments of taped conversations, and a critical informant that—until just recently—remained 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 Mussolini’s rule. Considered a mid-20th-century Modernist, Moretti’s interest in both curves and light generated the Watergate’s unique shapes and details, that engage the site’s riverside edge.

Although interested in changing its use and modernizing its services, the developer asked the architects not to alter the building’s exterior. Just this year, the project was placed on the District of Columbia’s Inventory of Historic Sites—a move that originally grew out of local opposition to the hotel-to-residence conversion plan.

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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 couldn’t 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.

Nancy B. Solomon, AIA

 

 

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