Dumbarton Oaks

1700 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20007

(31, 33, 30N and 30S Metrobuses)

The Dumbarton Oaks Fellowship House incorporates copper design elements that complement the project pallet of richly-textured, Flemish bond brick and honed limestone. The 31,300-square-foot (2,900 m2) House is located in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, one block away from the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection — an institute administered by the Trustees of Harvard University, which supports research in Byzantine art and architecture, garden and landscape architecture, and Pre-Columbian studies through fellowships and internships, meetings and exhibitions. The space was converted from a 1950’s commercial building to provide 25 dwelling units for the program’s annual student fellows, in addition to public spaces for the Dumbarton Oaks’ community. In an effort to meet the programmatic requirements and to address the residential scale, three-story orthogonal additions on the west and north elevations are inserted at an angle to the existing footprint, which is parallel to the residential street. Flat-seam copper paneling was chosen for the smaller-scaled residential and roof top additions for a number of reasons. First was copper’s historical association with residential architectural forms. The building is sited in the historic enclave of Georgetown where, despite the intersection of a busy commercial corridor and a quiet residential area, the use of traditional materials helps to ease the building gently into its context. Second, copper brings an intimate, hand-crafted feel to what had previously been an unremarkable 1950’s office box, custom-tailoring it to its setting. The small residential bays of the addition were meant to recall the scale and precedent of townhouses lining the adjacent residential streets. Third, copper was also very attractive because of its tremendous longevity and durability – the owner wanted the building to last 300 years. While no roofing material routinely lasts that long, copper is one of the few that has lasted a century or more. As a certified LEED Gold project, using copper cladding reinforced the mission of a long-lasting and sustainably responsible building. Oxidized copper accentuates the variations found in the natural material without fast-forwarding to the patinated state. Since it was installed, the copper has exhibited a surprising variety of textures and light effects. Its ability to transform and interact with daylight over time was another fundamental reason the team selected copper. Furthermore, the oxidized copper allowed the team to avoid the bright-penny phase of aging. The detailing of the project relies heavily on the tradition of details documented in Copper and Common Sense, distributed by Revere Copper Products, Inc., and undoubtedly benefited from the many recommendations offered by the Copper Development Association during the design process. In all cases, the copper detailing highlights the simplicity of the orthogonal volumes and relies on the beauty of its craftsmanship and the material’s interplay with light for much of its richness.

  • 31, 33, 30N, 30S