In the L'Enfant Plaza food court, vendors flank an area for lounging or grabbing a bite to eat.
A glass cube, leading to a lower-level eating and shopping area, beckons passersby.

Retail Connection

Located in Southwest DC, L’Enfant Plaza and the adjacent 10th Street Promenade were the 1960s brainchildren of architect I.M. Pei. Flanked by a series of federal office buildings, the plaza has been sadly under-utilized over the years. In 2009, developer JBG—which had acquired the site in 2003—hired SmithGroupJJR architects to revitalize it—and, by extension, the promenade. “It was obvious that L’Enfant Plaza felt cut off,” says Andrew Rollman, principal designer on the project. Since it lies between the National Mall and the burgeoning Southwest Waterfront, “the challenge was to make it a bridge between the two—to draw people to use it as a path from one area to the other.”

Some 200,000 square feet of shops and dining areas already existed underground, below a pyramidal structure added in the late 1970s. However, “no one seemed to know they were there,” says Rollman. He and his team conceived a design for a massive glass atrium to replace the pyramid over the shopping area. Not only would this structure bring in natural light—thereby negating the sense of being underground—it would also attract passersby. Measuring 3,000 square feet, the atrium is now a clean, modern form that complements Pei’s original site plan.

JBG’s plan also involved turning the plaza into a vibrant retail destination. A whole new crop of vendors has moved in, and a food court has been designed to approximate a bustling, urban street. Up next: new office, residential and entertainment spaces around the atrium that will turn L’Enfant Plaza into its own dense, mixed-use neighborhood.

ARCHITECTURE: ANDREW ROLLMAN, AIA, principal designer, SmithGroupJJR, Washington, DC. BUILDER: Whiting-Turner, Greenbelt, Maryland.