How D.C. developers are upping their design game on trophy buildings

When Akridge President and CEO Matt Klein thinks about amenities for the D.C. buildings his company is renovating into trophy offices, he doesn’t just consider fitness centers, shared conference space and rooftop terraces.

He is increasingly focusing time, and money, on an entirely new kind of aesthetics. That’s because he knows, when it comes to drawing tenants that shell out $50 or more per square foot in rents, design can make the difference. Think spiral glass staircases, whimsical sculptures, large digital displays and rooftop conference centers. It’s all part of an effort to provide a sense of place, evoke emotion or create an experience. (Click through the gallery to see other examples around town.)

“The need for our development managers to be on their A-game and our architects and engineers to be pushing the envelope certainly is at a different level than it was 10 years ago,” Klein said. “We spend an inordinate amount of time on the fit and finish, the design details that you don’t always see. You may not see all the details, but when you walk into the space everyone feels it. Someone paid attention to how all the components fit together.”

Tenants have long been able to design their four walls to communicate their work culture and shape their outreach to employees. But that’s increasingly falling on a building’s shared community space as well, from the lobbies to the rooftops. It’s about creating a “wow” factor to differentiate a building from other trophy contenders. Some developers, such as Akridge, are sending executives to other corners of the world, from Portugal to Greece to Japan, to look at the latest designs.

“It’s all about how is your building crafted? What is the experience of your trophy building? Not just what you physically offer your tenants, but how do they feel walking into that building?” said Jason Phillips, senior vice president with Bethesda developer The Meridian Group.

Take, for example, Meridian’s plans to begin a $50 million renovation of the eight-story, 132,000-square-foot building at 1901 L St. NW next month. Phillips said the company has contracted with an artist to create a bronze sculptural wall that will give the lobby character. D.C.-based Fox Architects is the design architect on the building renovation.

Meanwhile, the building will feature 9,200 square feet of interior space on the roof, about 4,500 square feet of which could be leased to a tenant. Similarly, the newly completed trophy building at 1000 Maine St. SW at The Wharf has a conference center on the rooftop, said Derek Wood, principal of Fox Architects, which is the architect of record for the building.

Meanwhile, some designs are focused on telling a story about a company or organization. Consider the D.C. Bar’s new $70 million headquarters at 901 Fourth St. NW in Mount Vernon Triangle.

“We wanted to express that the D.C. Bar is a Washington institution, so the stone that was selected for the lobby is the same stone that’s used for the Lincoln Memorial,” said John Warasila, principal of Alliance Architecture, which was the interior architect on the building. The company collaborated with the project’s base building architect, Hartman-Cox Architects.

He added that the building’s clear glass exterior was meant to express that the D.C.Bar is open and available not just to members but also to the community. And then there’s the lobby fixture. “We created a large digital display to also express that the Bar is technologically savvy,” Warasila said. “So even though it’s an old-line institution, it’s also current and relevant.”