A capital improvement: building a facility in Washington D.C.

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A capital improvement: building a facility in Washington D.C.
A capital improvement: building a facility in Washington D.C.
If you are familiar with the culture of red tape and regulation in Washington D.C. you probably would not be surprised at the trouble Sunrise Senior Living and the architects at BeeryRio went through to build their facility on Connecticut Avenue.

“It was crazy,” says Steve Ruiz, executive vice president with the Virginia-based architecture and design firm. “We were taken to court four or five times on this one.”

Reluctant neighbors and city officials, along with changing zoning laws, made this build a hassle for the design team. But in the end, architects used the zoning laws and draconian city-enforced requirements to their advantage, crafting a truly unique facility not far from the heart of the nation's capital.

Perturbed planners

Although the facility is in an upscale part of town, its origins were anything but highfalutin.
“It was basically a crack house,” Ruiz says. “There were thousands of used matches everywhere.”
And while developers felt that turning the rundown lot into a high-class facility would be a win-win situation for everyone, local officials resisted the idea.

The irregular floor plan of the facility is one such reflection of the difficulties designers faced. A seldom-used alleyway runs through the middle of the lot, and architects' first thoughts were to simply remove the raggedy road. But in an effort to stymie the plan, regulators insisted the alley be kept intact, forcing the team to bend the building around it.

A little luck fell BeeryRio's way, however, with new neighborhood height restrictions. By working almost around the clock for two months, BeeryRio architects were able to submit the finished facility design before a new regulation went into effect. The new rule would require the building to rise no more than five stories, rather than the desired seven. 

With so much trouble from city officials, architects wanted to make sure the residents of the surrounding community would accept the new facility. To blend the building seamlessly into the neighborhood, architects borrowed design elements from nearby homes and businesses.

“If you go up the street, you'll find every single element that we have on this building somewhere on that street,” according to Ruiz.

This kind of blending is important to consider when designing a new facility, or even remodeling an existing building.

“You're pulling [residents] from the neighborhood, so it's always good to have the vernacular that they're used to seeing in your building,” Ruiz explains.

Heck of a deck

The city's zoning restrictions, combined with the neighborhood's own unique aesthetic, encouraged the inclusion of a number of decks and balconies in the design of the Connecticut Avenue facility. While each has its own charm, Ruiz says he is most proud of the terrace outside the dementia care wing on the third floor.

“I think it's one of the best Alzheimer's and dementia floors we have ever done,” he said.

An elevated deck allows water to trickle between the paving stones to a sloped drainage floor below, eliminating traditional drains, which can be a tripping hazard. The pergola that runs the length of the balcony provides both beauty and protection for the residents, while allowing light to stream through the windows into the open-plan care ward.