The new occupants of 2470 Mandeville Lane in Alexandria, Va., are no longer suited government employees working in cubicles. Once serving as the home to the U.S. Department of Defense, the 741,000-square-foot office building has been converted into The Foundry, a residential tower comprising 520 units and 25,000 square feet of retail space and parking. Designed by Cooper Carry, in partnership with Perseus TDC, the office-to-residential transformation is not only the largest adaptive-reuse project of its kind in the mid-Atlantic region, but also a harbinger of a rising trend among developers in the D.C. region and beyond to reimagine old structures—particularly former offices—for innovative use.
A housing shortage has gripped the Washington, D.C., area, giving rise to skyrocketing rents and home prices. In 2019, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments anticipated the area needs 320,000 new units, primarily affordable, by 2030 to keep up with booming business, as well as a 20 percent reduction in traffic congestion if the majority of the new housing is near transit hubs.
Now, as more employees become accustomed to working from home during our current pandemic, there’s a strong likelihood many corporations will continue to gravitate toward modernized, healthier offices that serve smaller groups of revolving workers in the future, negating the need for the overabundance of lower-end workspaces that currently exist in urban cores. Conflating the urgent demand for housing with increased office vacancies, we can expect to see more opportunities for office-to-multifamily conversions.
The Foundry is one solution to narrowing the area’s housing gap, introducing a mix of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom market-rate units to accommodate a range of residents. Through the upgrading of the exterior and surrounding elements, reconfiguring of interior floor plans and the addition of thoughtful amenities, Cooper Carry was able to strategically recycle the shell of a former office building for a more purposeful use.
Evolving the Exterior Structure
The first order of business for the design team was to devise a workable plan to update and reimagine the building’s exterior, contemporizing the nearly 50-year-old tower’s original facade to better align with the changing face of the neighborhood while retaining key elements of the existing structure.
Built in 1972, the tower had been hard hit by years of degradation. A vision of the previous century, The Foundry was in dire need of a facelift, prompting the design team to gut and strip the building of its outdated features and start from scratch. Using the historic, brick-clad architectural vernacular present in Old Town Alexandria as a primary source of inspiration for the new and improved facade, the tower was reskinned in red brick-faced precast concrete panels, a time-saving measure that prevented the development team from having to spend on traditionally laid brick.
Diminutive windows were replaced with expansive warehouse-style treatments that allowed for higher levels of natural light inside the building, and the design team added three additional floors to the previous 13 levels. To break up and freshen the outward expression of the building, slick metal paneling was affixed to the uppermost levels, facilitating an industrial-meets-modern look favored by ownership. The team also incorporated a series of staggered, recessed balconies designed to mix up the facade and create a sense of playfulness and changing shadows.
One prominent challenge faced by the design team during the renovation was adapting the original layout of the office building to conform to what is commonly found in residential builds. Drawing a sharp contrast to typical residential dimensions of 65- to 70-feet deep, The Foundry’s extensive 374-foot length and 124-foot depth already were larger than the average office floor plate—and required extra creativity.
After the interior of the building was gutted, the design solution included filling excess space at the core with multi-floor amenity spaces, creating residential units with mid-point entries, rather than entrances at either end of the building, and implementing additional personal storage areas for residents. Apartment units form the perimeter of the building, strategically placed to maximize daylight. The interiors of the residences feature a loft aesthetic with exposed concrete slab ceilings, ductwork and clerestory windows that leverage high ceiling heights and make units feel larger and enhance access to sunlight. In addition, mechanical and plumbing systems were brought up to code through the renovation.
There was also the issue of parking, which needed to be provided to accommodate city requirements for multifamily developments. To address the problem, three of the old office floor slabs were converted into parking—one of the catalysts for the creation of additional floors to replace lost square footage for apartment units.