Renovation nears completion for Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University

LEO A DALY's renovation of the 1897 Corcoran School of the Arts and Design is set to hit a major milestone in time for classes at George Washington University to start this fall. The phase-one work includes life-safety and accessibility improvements, as well as the historically sensitive creation of new teaching, fabrication, and social spaces for the renowned arts-education program.

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Excerpted from GW Today:

By Ruth Steinhardt. Photos by William Atkins / The George Washington University. 

The George Washington University’s Corcoran School of the Arts and Design will re-open the second floor of its signature Beaux-Arts Flagg Building on 17th Street to students this fall, boasting four refurbished floors of classroom, lab and gallery space.

The Flagg Building’s multiphase construction effort has been ongoing since May 2016, with renovations including fundamental life safety, mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades. Accessibility ramps and elevators have been built, bathrooms have been expanded and darkroom and other studios overhauled.

Opened in 1897, the Flagg Building received D.C. historic landmark status in 1964 and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board designated most of the building’s interior historic last year. Architect LEO A DALY has led design of the renovations, with Whiting-Turning serving as construction manager.

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The Flagg Building’s courtly atrium has undergone few cosmetic changes. It has always been a display site for exhibitions, most recently housing Joseph Kunkel’s “Bridging Boundaries” and preparing to mount the NEXT end-of-year show later this month. But while the atrium will continue to serve that purpose, it will also constitute what Mr. Sethi called “the commons”: a central gathering point for the Corcoran community to congregate, converse, debate and celebrate.

“We want to think about how we as a school come together—informally, on a day-to-day basis, but also formally as a community,” Mr. Sethi said.

On the second floor, the Flagg’s historic galleries are being revitalized into what Mr. Sethi calls “active pedagogical spaces,” with classroom seating, storage cabinets, power drops for student technology and other learning-focused renovations. Some have been designed for specific use, such as a new electronics fabrication lab that will be accessible for all students. But most are designed to be as flexible as possible.

The sub-basement will house the school’s metal shop and wood shop, while the basement will retain updated studio and seminar areas, outfitted for both general use and specific materials like printmaking and ceramics. On the first floor, the former director’s suites have been converted into seminar classrooms, while the former bookstore is now a computer lab.

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Several of the classrooms filling former gallery spaces have walls that do not reach the ceiling. Hanging acoustic “bafflers” insulate these rooms from ambient noise while preserving the flow of the original space. All redesigns in the historical galleries were undertaken with input and approval from the Historic Preservation Review Board.

“In creating classroom spaces, our goal was not to pretend that our interventions would somehow try to mimic the historic architecture,” Mr. Sethi said. “It was rather trying to be an intervention that was not overly disruptive, that was education-friendly.”

One of the redesign’s most labor-intensive initiatives was the restoration of the building’s “lay lights,” the skylight-like outer windows that provide diffuse natural light without directly accessing the sun. These spaces will host the interior architecture program, currently housed on the Mount Vernon Campus.

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