Washington, DC’s building stock is largely composed of two typologies: heavy masonry or concrete buildings with high-relief façades and punched windows—in the Beaux Arts, Neoclassical, Art Deco, and Brutalist styles—or modern structures with taut glass envelopes, many with applied external decorative treatments. Because building heights and massing are constrained by DC’s strict zoning codes, the two typologies match in scale, but are aesthetically unreconciled.
In this context, 2050 M Street maximizes its façade’s potential to set the new standard of trophy office space within the DC market. Its curtain wall provides the leasing ideal of hyper-transparent, floor-to-ceiling glass without any view-impeding mullions.
The unique glass also creates a new DC office type, one which combines the advantages of an all-glass building with the modulation of a high-relief façade befitting its context.
The façade’s approximately nine hundred identical, insulated-glass panels—3.2 m tall by 1.5 m wide (11’-6” tall by 5’-0” wide)—are subtly curved to a 2.9 m (9’-6”) radius through a heat roller tempering process. The curve yields structural efficiency, which meets wind load requirements and enables a thinner monolithic outer lite than normal, providing greater transparency.
Because of the curve’s inherent rigidity in compression, only the top and bottom edges of the panels are supported from the floor slabs, while the mullionless vertical edges are flush-glazed for a minimalist aesthetic that improves sight lines, while gaining usable floor area.
To emphasize the ethereal lightness of the skin, all perimeter columns are pulled 3.8 m (12’-6”) in from the façade, and the ceiling is tapered to the depth of the structural slab as it approaches the exterior. The concave side of the curved units faces outwards, resulting in an elegant fluting effect, which gives the building its unique
As a counterpoint to the crystalline façade, the lobby is a warm oasis of brown and white cowhide wall panels, as well as wood floors and ceilings whose color, thin plank width, and polish evoke yacht decks. The panels’ dimensions and bookmatching are a playful nod to the stone treatment of modernist lobbies. The vestibule is enlarged to accommodate a site-specific piece of art commissioned for the building.
A subtly-reflective pyrolytic coating applied to the glass’s exterior and a high-performance low-E coating applied within the glass’s insulating cavity reduce solar heat gain and meet thermal performance requirements. Paired with the curving panels, they create an unusual kaleidoscopic effect of repetitive transparency and reflection that simultaneously animates and dematerializes the façade.
2050 M Street’s ambitious façade was made possible (and cost-effective) by a non-traditional procurement process. Typically, façades are bid using aesthetic and performance specifications, with final design assigned to the façade subcontractor. Doing so relinquishes aesthetic control and competitive leverage, as the interplay between quality and cost of both the glass and the overall system remain hidden to the owner and design team.
On 2050 M Street, the design team pre-validated a prescriptive specification for all aspects of the custom, mullion-less, fluted glass system. This enabled the appearance, technical viability, and cost of the curved, laminated, insulated glass panels to be verified early in the design process by funding five fabricators to build identical prototypes and price the production of the prescribed glass build-up.
With the initial cost range amongst fabricators varying nearly two to one, final prices were competitively negotiated by the owner and the best quality glass selected.
Once the glass and its price were locked in, the pre-validated, prescriptive system design was competitively bid amongst multiple, qualified, specialist façade subcontractors. The pre-purchased glass was novated to the successful candidate, whose responsibility it was to provide final system design and engineering (notably, affirming the design team’s pre-validated design), means and methods, and delivery of fully fabricated curtain wall panels to the façade installer.
The result was a highly customized façade purchased at reasonable cost because each component was procured independently, competitively, and transparently.
2050 M STREET
KEY AWARDS American Council of Engineering Companies, New York Platinum Award, Category C: Structural Systems, 2020; Global Architecture & Design Awards, 2nd Place in Office Category, 2018; MIPIM Architectural Review, Future Project Award, 2016
CLIENT Tishman Speyer
PROGRAM Premium office building in Washington, DC’s Golden Triangle business district, hosting CBS’s Washington Bureau (including television studios), amongst other tenants
AREA 41,800 m² (450,000 sf)
STATUS Completed 2020
DESIGN ARCHITECT REX
PERSONNEL Timothy Burwell, Adam Chizmar, Maur Dessauvage, Kelvin Ho, James Kehl, Elizabeth Nichols, Joshua Ramus, Matthew Uselman (PL), Cristina Webb (PL), Vaidotas Vaiciulis, Michael Volk
EXECUTIVE ARCHITECT Kendall/Heaton
CONSULTANTS Arup, Baumann, Blades, Cerami, ECS, Front, Janson Tsai, Left Bank, LERA, LSM, Richter, George Sexton, Walker, Wiles Mensch, WSP
Project description courtesy of architects