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Groundbreaking Ceremony for New Fellowship Building

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on May 21st, to mark the beginning of renovations to the new Fellowship Building. Work will be completed by September 2014, in time for the arrival of the 2014–2015 Fellows. Located on 1700 Wisconsin Avenue, much closer than the current Fellows’ accommodations, the Fellowship Building will provide state-of-the-art living facilities and is projected to satisfy a LEED gold standard. Its proximity to the library, gardens, and museum will round off the Dumbarton Oaks campus and maximize opportunities for Fellows, Visiting Scholars, and accompanying families to meet and make the most of campus and local amenities. The building will also afford opportunities to accommodate short-term stays by resident musicians and practicing landscape architects, as well as longer residencies for scholars involved in Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library projects, to mention but a few of the ways in which it will complement and enhance the mission and activities of Dumbarton Oaks.

Dumbarton Oaks Director Jan Ziolkowski delivered the following remarks at the ceremony:

I have to laugh at finding myself shovel at the ready for a groundbreaking. When my term as director of Dumbarton Oaks began six years ago, I counted blithely on not having to expend much time or energy on the physical plant. After all, we were concluding a long campus renewal project. Instead, I was to focus resolutely on people and scholarly programming: that is what my PhD and professorial appointment had prepared me to handle. But it did not take long to realize that human beings demand feeding, heating and cooling, plumbing, lighting, internet connections, and much else that pertains to our physicality.

So here we are, gathered to auspicate a new building. Although not on the sixteen and a quarter acres of the original estate, 1700 Wisconsin differs from other buildings outside the main property. Far more than any past residence belonging to Dumbarton Oaks, this lot and edifice will be integrated into our community and programmatic aspirations.

As the invitation revealed, the building to take shape here will be called the Fellowship Building. This name signals that the building is bigger than any one cohort. It does not belong to a single class of fellows or even to all past and present fellows put together. Rather, it is meant to embody and facilitate a larger ideal of fellowship.

When we think of fellows at Dumbarton Oaks, we slip fast into our customary mantra of “Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape Studies.” Those are the donor-driven programs of study, one dating from 1940 and the others from thirty years later, with which the institution has been proudly associated. At the same time, Dumbarton Oaks was always supposed to be more capacious than those alone. It is no humanities center, but it can and must serve the broadest public within its given scope.

The moment is ripe for change, since in 2015 we will be seventy-five years young. We must maintain what we have been all along, but even more than ever before we must project forward and outward what we aspire to accomplish. We must reflect changes in our own day as we seek to mediate between the pasts we cherish and our challenging but inspiring present.

Accordingly, the building that is to emerge from this brick chrysalis will accommodate not only nineteen fellows, divided across the three existing programs, but also six additional ones. Three or four will buttress those programs and their missions but by accomplishing something distinct. Furthermore, the benefits will not stop at flanking the three programs. Harvard, under whose umbrella we have not merely survived but actually thrived, will be represented in most years by a professor on sabbatical who can profit from what we have to offer intellectually and culturally—and vice versa. Our Friends of Music program will be supplemented by the presence of young musicians, who in return for the gift of practice time in an acoustically insulated room will perform free concerts to draw a new clientele to our Museum and who will perhaps offer master classes just up the block in the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

Other benefits to society will accrue. For example, a fellow with mobility limitations will be housed only a long block away from the library and study, lunches in the Refectory, and events. A fellow with spouse and family will have cattycorner the Georgetown Public Library, up the block the Safeway, within a hundred yards two Starbucks, and right outside the Wisconsin Avenue door public buses galore.

Dumbarton Oaks staff should bear in mind that the building is to accommodate fellows and fellowship activities but that it will have features intended for staff as well, notably an exercise room. The greatest proponent of a gym was Joanne Pillsbury, subsequently wrested from us to the Getty Research Institute. The Getty, known for its opulence and deep pockets, has its wittily nicknamed “Spa-Getty.” We, being more serious, more East Coast, and perhaps more combative, will have what may be dubbed a “D.O.-joh.” Whatever its name, the space will provide staff members who commute by bicycle with a place to lock their bikes and shower.

The building as purchased was the antithesis of green. Just look around and consider the ingenuity it required to come up with even a tiny patch of ground that could be legitimately broken with a shovel rather than a pneumatic drill or a backhoe. But this will change: by the end, 1700 Wisconsin will be green through and through, with plantings on the upper level, vegetation on some faces of the building, and trees and a rain garden in what until now has been an unrelieved stretch of sweltering black asphalt.

The site will have seven geothermal wells, to facilitate a highly energy-efficient building. Thanks to a conviction that sustainability is right and smart, we want to be leaders. That last word alludes to the acronym LEED, for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. 1700 will attain gold status according to LEED standards.

Like Dumbarton Oaks as a whole, the Fellowship Building will be a Swiss watch of an edifice. To give just a couple out of countless possible examples, it will be laid out to enable shifting bedrooms from one apartment to another depending on family size. When windows are opened, heating or cooling will be cut off automatically. Alongside such intelligent design will be the aesthetic qualities we associate with both Swiss watches and D.O. Art objects that can be safely displayed will be installed, so that the building can be tied in its beauty to the main campus. Toward the same goal of joining the residences to the main campus, plasma screens will hang near the front entrance so that before stepping out for the day fellows can see what lectures are taking place, what concerts are being held, what books are being published, and what museum installations are on display. If all of this suggests to you that the Fellowship Building will facilitate intellectual and social exchange in manners not possible at La Quercia on 30th Street, you are absolutely right.

Before expressing appreciation to a number of special folk, I would like to emphasize that as director I have to weigh carefully what to spend on people, what on research projects, and what on physical resources. In this case I cannot emphasize enough how much my calculations have rested on a long horizon, as I have considered what this building can achieve for us over a century or more. The costs of the site and the construction will be amortized against many decades of use: this edifice may have begun life as a spec building in the Eisenhower era, but it is being refined into something radically different, more permanent, and better.

Massaging the idea of the building into an altogether new space and functionality has been a devoted handful of architects from the firm Cunningham/Quill, namely, Ralph Cunningham, Chris Morrison, Pete Blum, Jennifer Harty, and David Coxson. Ralph has come out with many immortal dicta, from his vow to “bring the gardens of Dumbarton Oaks to 1700 Wisconsin” to “this is where fellowship happens.” Chris has been less forthcoming with the bons mots but has delivered time and again the revisions to the plan we have needed. To them as well as to Pete, Jenn, and David I extend thanks on behalf of D.O. as a whole.

Mediating between Dumbarton Oaks and the architects has been our peripatetic project manager Peter Riley, among the very first to support me in the wild notion of making this our Fellowship Building. Only Peter and I know the full story of what efforts it has required in Cambridge and DC to reach this point, and I feel privileged (as well as sometimes battleworn) to have collaborated with him.

Our construction company is Whiting-Turner, with which Dumbarton Oaks has long had a close relationship. I want to single out for particular praise Summer Cleary and Todd Miller, whose oversight of this project gives me confidence that Whiting-Turner will get us to completion for occupancy, as usual on time and under budget, by September of 2014.

To turn to a different set of officials, no project could come to fruition in Georgetown without the awareness and approval of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, chaired by Ron Lewis, with Ed Solomon and Tom Birch among the vice-chairs, and with Charlie Eason. I thank all of them for their commitment to the neighborhood—a commitment I hope to have demonstrated amply and repeatedly that we at D.O. share.

Exemplifying neighbors in a non-elected way is Elizabeth Stewart, who has been the most gracious and understanding abuttor I could imagine. I count on her to let me know instantly if we fail to do right by her, and that at the project’s end she will feel integrated into the best and most beautiful aspects of Dumbarton Oaks. We already regard her as a lifelong friend.

Last but not least are my colleagues. Although four-fifths of the Dumbarton Oaks staff are not in attendance, this moment is collective: those of us from D.O. stand here not merely as individuals but as representatives of our departments, since this building will involve each and every one. I would like to single out for acknowledgment three clusters in particular: first, those who have served on the liaison committee to the architects, such as John Beardsley, James Carder, and Helen Hubbard-Davis; second, special consultants such as Gudrun Buehl, Pete Haggerty, Emily Jacobs, and Susannah Italiano; and third, the department heads who provide expert answers to all my questions, who ensure that bills are paid on time, and who contribute much else. Finally, I should thank Joe Mills, our staff photographer, for capturing our images today.

The work is only just starting: after demolition, months of construction lie ahead. But I am filled with hope, excitement, and even certainty about what the future will deliver. 1700 Wisconsin, the Fellowship Building, portends great things for Dumbarton Oaks (and Harvard) as well as for the neighborhood, Georgetown, and DC. I am grateful to everyone who has made and will make it a reality.

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