Class A with a White House view

Repositioning reveals a commercial diamond in D.C.

If it looks familiar, it may be that you’ve seen the 815 Connecticut Ave NW building before. President Barack Obama and President Bill Clinton toured the building in 2011 at the kick-off event for President Obama’s Better Buildings Initiative. The initiative called for nearly $4 billion in public and private building upgrades to make American commercial and industrial buildings more energy efficient and encouraged commercial real estate owners to update their properties. 815 Connecticut Ave NW made for a perfect backdrop for the event. It sits just two blocks from the White House lawn, right next to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Previous to repositioning, the 1964 structure, despite piece-meal upgrades, had been showing its age. Its central plant and mechanicals were on their last legs and its restrooms did not meet ADA standards. It was limping along as an inefficient Class B property. In a hot-and-only-getting-hotter D.C. commercial property market, a site with access to two Metro stations and D.C.’s government district was crying out for change. The building’s owner, an affiliate of Swedish pension fund Alecta Real Estate Investment LLC, wanted to make it a trophy level property. The owners saw a diamond in the rough.


A tear-down wasn’t required to take it there. Instead, 815 Connecticut Ave NW received a $30 million-plus overhaul, a redevelopment from the inside-out. Throughout our process, however, our main goal at VOA was always to create a building as if it had been designed new. We applied this outlook to all our decisions and it paid dividends.

Phase I required replacement of the central plant with a state-of-the-art, energy efficient system for better temperature control. The new plant can monitor the power consumption of individual mechanical components. The ENERGY STAR® rating leapt nearly 50 points to 82 after the first year the new chiller plant was in operation.

Phase II concerned itself with upgrading the building’s overall appearance, architectural features and amenities. It included replacement of the exterior facade with a curtain wall system—moving the curtain wall beyond the property line allowed for an increase in available commercial space.

To bring the building to a trophy level in a highly competitive market (in a professional culture where building amenities can be workplace amenities that attract and retain talent), we had to go further. Updated amenities include ADA restroom upgrades, a valet parking office and the expanded lobby and plaza.


We also created additional space. We added additional square footage to the corners of the building, about 63SF per floor on 11 floors. Along with the addition of a twelfth floor on the building, our design increased the total leasable office space by 12,000SF to about 236,000SF. The market rate for the space was significantly increased and the repositioning of 815 Connecticut Ave NW is now on track to pay for itself. Like any good investment, building repositioning must be justified not just by attractive design, but by its financial returns.

For more, see Five 815 Connecticut Ave features and amenities we love.

Size: 236,000 square feet
Team: John Jessen, Todd Combs, Richard Wolf, Dick Brown, Tony Wong, Michele Vernon, Lia Phipps and Stephanie Tyrpak

Photography by Ron Blunt

Download the complete Design Quarterly Fall 2014.

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