2022

MCHAP

2050 M Street

REX

Washington, United States

March 2020

PRIMARY AUTHOR

Joshua Ramus

CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR

Kendall Heaton Associates Inc. / Steven Bell, Front Inc. / Marc Simmons, LERA – Leslie E. Robertson Assoc. / Nayan Trivedi, WSP / Brian Carroll

CLIENT

Tishman Speyer / Rustom Cowasjee

PHOTOGRAPHER

Alan Karchmer / Iwan Baan

OBJECTIVE

2050 M Street was envisioned as a Class A spec office building in the heart of Washington, DC that would set a new standard in its market. Adhering to Washington’s strict zoning on building height and massing that limits architectural uniqueness, 2050 M Street leverages its façade to create a memorable identity for the property and provide the leasing ideal of hyper-transparent, floor-to-ceiling glass without view-impeding mullions.

The façade’s 978 identical, insulated-glass panels are curved using a bending tempering furnace, which heats and curves flat glass with geometric precision and no distortion. The inherent rigidity of the curved glass eliminates the need for structural mullions (leaving only a minimalist unitized frame that improves sightlines and increases usable floor area) and reduces the thickness of the monolithic outer lite (providing greater transparency). To emphasize the ethereal lightness of the skin, perimeter columns are pulled in from the façade, and the ceiling’s edge is tapered to the depth of the pre-tensioned structural slab.

A reflective pyrolytic coating on the exterior and a high-performance low-E coating within the glass’ insulating cavity reduce solar heat gain and meet thermal performance requirements. Paired with the panels’ fluting, the coatings create an unusual kaleidoscopic effect of repetitive transparency and reflection that simultaneously animates the city and dematerializes the façade.

In contrast to the building’s rigorous exterior, the lobby harbors the rich, warm tones and materiality of sapele mahogany and Bella Rosa onyx. An integrated art space—custom-designed for a Tara Donovan sculpture—extends the entry vestibule.

CONTEXT

The design of 2050 M Street mediates between the two dissonant aesthetic typologies of Washington, DC’s building stock: heavy masonry or concrete buildings in the Beaux Arts, Neoclassical, Art Deco, and Brutalist styles with high-relief facades and punched windows; and contemporary structures with taut glass envelopes. While these two typologies match in scale due to the city’s strict zoning codes for building height and massing, they are aesthetically unreconciled, creating a visual cacophony that is slowly undoing the charm of an important urban built environment. By combining the advantages of an all-glass building with a high-relief façade, 2050 M Street addresses this dichotomy and creates a new architectural paradigm in Washington, DC.

PERFORMANCE

2050 M Street’s crystalline, mullion-free envelope animates an otherwise commonplace urban environment, and provides tenants with deeply daylit 34,000 sf floorplates and unobstructed views of the city.

Additionally, the façade’s innovative procurement process has become an exemplar within the design and construction industry. A prescriptive specification for the curved glass was pre-validated early in design and shared with five glass fabricators commissioned to build identical prototypes and price the glass’ production. The owner then pre-purchased the best quality glass at a competitively negotiated price (the initial highest price was twice the lowest), locking in the optical precision, technical viability, and cost of the curved, laminated, insulated panels. With variations in glass quality and cost removed from the equation, the subsequent competitive bidding of the frames and support assemblies exposed clearly the façade subcontractors’ proprietary capabilities and prices. The pre-purchased glass was novated to the successful subcontractor who performed final analysis and detailing (retaining traditional warranty responsibilities), defined means and methods, and delivered fully fabricated curtain wall panels to the site. This process allowed a highly custom curtain wall to be purchased within a spec office building budget.

Lastly, an intricate project schedule enabled the relocation of CBS’ Washington Bureau—which had been broadcasting from a small building razed for 2050 M Street’s larger construction—without any interruption to their service.