Farrand House, Dumbarton Oaks

Washington, DC

Dumbarton Oaks is a Harvard University research institute, library, and museum set amidst an historic garden designed by Beatrix Farrand in the Georgetown neighborhood of the District of Columbia. Selldorf Architects is currently working on two projects on the campus: construction of a state-of-the-art academic building to serve as a new education and exhibition space; and the renovation and restoration of the historic greenhouse, designed by Farrand and McKim, Mead & White in 1925. Working with Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture, both projects extend and enhance the legacy of a treasured national resource that exemplifies the interdependent relationship of landscape, architecture, and art.

The new three-story academic building will span 10,000 sf and provide, for the first time, dedicated space for K-12 learning activities inspired by Dumbarton Oaks’ collections and gardens. A studio dedicated to a new artist-in-residence program will help Dumbarton Oaks grow its support for artists whose work draws from the surrounding history and gardens. A new Innovation Lab for Digital Humanities will be home to Dumbarton’s visiting scholars and enhance access to the Library collection and gardens. Clad in brick with a zinc roof and fieldstone base, the 3-story building sits harmoniously within the landscape. Responding to a gently sloping site, it has a bi-lateral entry. Those arriving by vehicle, including school buses, will arrive via the west vestibule while those coming on foot from the rest of campus will enter at the east vestibule. Upon arrival, circulation then proceeds from the middle floor where the Classroom and Innovation lab are located.

The landscape design activates the western reaches of the property and expands the expressive horticulture for which Dumbarton Oaks is renowned. As one of the most intact and significant remaining works of Beatrix Farrand, honoring and extending her legacy became especially important. Telescoping terraces and contained outlooks found in the wider gardens find new expression in the way the woods and courts integrate the new building into the site. Choreographed vistas are reinterpreted around Farrand House and the planted slope establishes a sense of continuity with Dell. Original garden details including bench design, fieldstone walks, and the Ellipse hedge became reference points in the project for their qualities of scale, texture, light, and comfort.

New plantings throughout invite engagement, horticultural observation, and research. The palette features primarily native plants with select non-invasive, horticulturally significant exotics, and includes many distantly related plant “cousins” that reveal the system of plant taxonomy.

Tracking for LEED Gold certification, the building will employ state-of-the-art building systems to reduce its energy and water use, including geothermal heating and cooling as well as photovoltaic panels on the roof. Passive strategies include massing for maximum daylighting and exterior shading. Ceiling fans, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and all LED lighting contribute to almost net-zero operational carbon. The gardens are accessible and flexible and conceived to support resilient, sustainable management practices.

The project included relocating and upgrading existing campus infrastructure to the campus edge, making space for the new building as a destination for art and education, and anchoring a new neighborhood within the campus. Farrand House will contribute a new chapter to the architectural legacy at Dumbarton Oaks, which includes buildings by Philip Johnson and Venturi, Scott Brown.

At the center of the Dumbarton Oaks Campus, the renovation of the existing historic greenhouse and pit house will bolster operations that are fundamental to the stewardship of the historic gardens, increasing its capacity to support critical plant care and propagation. The envelope and interiors are fully restored to create a state-of-the-art facility with modern greenhouse technology, elevated efficiency, extending the building’s use for the next generation.

(Renderings by Selldorf Architects)

(Site plan drawing by Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture)