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Washington Lawyer

D.C. Bar's Future Home Fuses Design and Aspirations

By Sarah Kellogg

Law Office DesignWhen the D.C. Bar breaks ground for its new building this summer, it will be with the knowledge that the technologically advanced and eco-friendly headquarters will fuse the best of urban design and architecture with the Bar's ambitious mission and goals.

The Bar tapped Alliance Architecture to guide the project, and the Alliance team explored what would best serve the Bar and its members into the future. Those discussions informed both the internal design and the process of imagining the building's shell, making it a visually dramatic facility that would reflect the Bar's unique culture and aspirations.

"In addition to our primary focus on long-term cost savings, we are excited about the many opportunities the new building will provide for member engagement among the D.C. Bar community," says Tim Webster, president of the Bar and partner at Sidley Austin LLP. "We will have meeting space configured to suit our needs for [Continuing Legal Education], Sections, and other programming, and we will have a studio that better enables us to reach out-of-town members with Web-based content—or even local members who don't have the time to join us in person."

The Bar's new headquarters—a 100,000-square-foot corner building—will be located at 901 4th Street NW, in the heart of the Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood. The facility will have access to four Metrorail stations, Metrobus service, and three Capital Bikeshare stations. More than 45 restaurants and retailers are within walking distance. Construction will begin this summer, and the building will be open for occupancy in winter 2017.

Working with Alliance very early in the process, the Bar was able to bridge the usual conflicts between its internal design features and architectural structure to ensure greater flexibility and cost efficiency.

"I think the single most valuable thing we did was to get involved early enough to help the Bar to not think about what they do today and just extrapolate it out by 10 years," says John Warasila, founding principal of Alliance Architecture. "Instead, we urged them to think about how they would serve their members if they started from scratch and just considered what was best for the members 10 years from now. It was a shift in thinking."

One of the key features of the planned facility is an internal or "communicating" staircase that connects the Bar's main floors and allows for ease of access and greater integration in the space. The facade of the building will have a special glass skin that will increase the allowance of light into the Bar's core space.

Another unique feature is a spiral staircase in the lobby, which will be highly visible and striking at night. The staircase will take Bar members from the main lobby to the classroom floor. The Bar's emphasis on training and continuing education is reflected in the state-of-the-art classrooms and in its decision to remove any obtrusive columns from the classroom space.

Webster says the Bar also could offer temporary space to visiting members who need a quiet and functional place to work for a few hours before or after a meeting or court appearance. "As our member survey showed last year, our members are looking for meaningful ways to connect with their colleagues professionally, and our new building will provide us a platform—literally—to help meet our members' interests," says Webster.

Like many of the new law office buildings in the District, the Bar's future home will feature a rooftop deck with a meeting room that opens out onto green space. The glass walls of the meeting room can fold to the side and allow easy access to the patio for social events.

Initially, the Bar is expected to occupy about 70 percent of the building, but that will be maximized to 100 percent within 20 years, says Warasila. Along with office suites, the Bar will have two retail suites on the ground floor available for lease. One will be set up for a restaurant, while the other could serve as either retail or restaurant space, both of which will contribute to the neighborhood's growing popularity.

"This neighborhood is in transition," says Warasila. "I think the Bar thought of itself as an organization that can help move it along to become further established. It allows the Bar to think of itself as a part of the neighborhood as well as a part of the bigger community that is Washington, D.C."