The Red Cross moves with the times

November 01, 2003 |

Passersby familiar with the old American Red Cross National Headquarters building in Washington, D.C. may be doing a double-take these days: A 10-story building now rises behind the five-story building that has occupied the site since 1952.

The 85,000-sq.-ft. building, which once housed the headquarters of the D.C. Chapter of the Red Cross, was dismantled and reconstructed 52 feet closer to the street in order to provide room for the new tower.

The building was saved in response to neighborhood objections over its proposed demolition, says Barry Habib, project principal with Washington-based Shalom Baranes Architects. New buildings in Washington must win approval from the National Capital Planning Commission, particularly in the Foggy Bottom area, where "any change not of a residential character — and even large residential buildings — is controversial," he notes. The approval process took years to complete.

Window frames, doors, interior millwork, marble, and light fixtures were salvaged, along with wood panels from the historically significant conference room, boardroom, and main lobby. Marble was removed and catalogued for storage by Wrecking Corp. of America, Alexandria, Va., the demolition and salvage contractor.

Reclaimed materials were trucked 35 miles to a suburban location, where most were stored.

When reassembled, the old building was aligned with neighboring buildings closer to the street line, and the garden space around it was also restored. The reconstructed building is supported by a new garage structure that extends beneath the entire site.

The new building and the chapter house have a combined area of 750,000 square feet. A six-story, glass-topped atrium more than 100 feet long provides a transition between the two structures.

The new building was designed to be compatible with but distinguishable from the chapter house, says Habib. To do this, the new building was faced with a slightly different colored limestone from that of the old structure.

To meet the height limit of 107 feet, machine rooms for the building's 17 underslung elevators and two large generators that would normally go on the roof were installed in the basement. This required meticulous coordination with the elevator subcontractor, so that embedded steel attachments in the basement concrete slab could be placed exactly right, according to Mike Lloyd, project manager with general contractor Clark Construction Co., Bethesda, Md.

The exterior wall of the chapter house had no mortar joints, having relied essentially on the weight of the stone to keep the wall in place. A similar approach was used when it was reconstructed. It would have been impractical to use mortar because the weight of the stones would have displaced the mortar, says Lloyd.

The Red Cross moved into the facility early this year. The project has since received a Best Adaptive Reuse award from the Washington Building Congress.

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