PROJECT TEAM: Scott Sickeler, AIA: Architect Of Record Liz Neiswander AIA: Interior Design Principal Peter Green, AIA: Architecture and QC Lead Nate Johnson, AIA: Project Manager Max Neiswander: Architecture Lucinda Aaron: Interior Design
The DC Ballroom is located in right outside of Washington DC in National Harbor and is a freestanding event venue situated on the Potomac River. The building compliments, and is serviced from, an existing, and expansive, 4 star hotel and convention center just 60 feet away. The charge was to create a truly unique space that would stand out from the large number of traditional meeting spaces inside the existing convention center. The program called for a 16,000 sf ballroom, pre-function, support spaces, and outdoor terraces. The site is uniquely situated about 100’ east of the Potomac river with 270 degrees of excellent views across the water to Alexandria, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, and Washington DC. Market demands typically drive convention ballrooms to be introverted, dark and energy intensive, so the design challenge was to take advantage of the west-facing views and riverfront while addressing the venue’s needs for column free space, energy efficiency, and lighting versatility.
One of the challenges was to retain guest views across the river, which required the new ballroom to remain below 34’ in total height. Because a column-free space was required, a traditional long-span structure underneath the roofing membrane would have resulted in a roof so thick it would have blocked the views. The solution was to utilize a delicate cable suspension system above the roof so views could pass through the roof structure instead of over it. At the same time, the aesthetics were developed to reflect the sailboats moored within viewing distance at the nearby National Harbor Marina. The low-slung, gentle curve of the roof form was developed to give the building a specific direction towards to water, enhancing the directionality of the views while drawing visitors away from the existing building to feel like they’re inhabiting a new and unique space.
The West, South, and North faces of the ballroom are primarily glass to maximize views. In order to minimize heat gain and glare, an intricate system of shading devices was utilized. At the roof level, overhangs of 16 to 20 feet project past the glass walls. A series of horizontal sunshade fins establish a datum just above eye level to provide additional cover. 12” vertical fins mounted to the exterior face of each curtainwall mullion address sunsets from the west. Sun-path studies were performed to optimize the exact dimension and location of each of these as a total system. Two layers of motorized blackout and shear shades are automated to draw down to certain heights depending on the time of day and light levels.