The 25 multi-family projects architect Suzane Reatig has designed in Shaw—until recently, one of DC’s most disenfranchised neighborhoods—affirm the notion that affordability and design excellence can go hand in hand. Reatig’s new monograph, A Clear View: How Glass Buildings in the Inner City Transformed a Neighborhood (available at reatig.com), documents her paradigm-shifting work. Here, Reatig reflects on the trail she has blazed.
How has your work influenced Shaw’s renaissance?
We started 25 years ago, when buildings were boarded up and had bars on the windows, giving a message: “This is a rough area; stay away.” By creating open and inviting buildings while also addressing safety and security, we took an active role in improving the neighborhood and presenting a new image to the community.
Regardless of budget, what common threads run through your work?
We design spaces we would want to live in ourselves, building from our experiences but constantly challenging the existing and testing the limits. Where possible, we explore the relationship between art, architecture and design. Our practice emphasizes the use of natural light and the blurring of lines between inside and outside to bring nature in. Quality of life and functionality are key, as are all aspects of sustainability.
What has been your greatest obstacle in Shaw?
Historic preservation is about preserving and respecting authenticity; it should be democratic and not restrict innovation and creativity in new construction. It has been a challenge to convey to the public and to municipal boards that a building revolves around how people want to live today—that it’s not just an architectural shape or style.
What excites you most about architectural changes underway in DC?
It’s exciting to see young, creative people and businesses moving to the city, contributing to its transformation as a global cultural center. While growth and change are important, social context, diversity and affordable housing must be considered to maintain Washington’s unique cultural history and identity. Designing for the future, to include both new and existing residents, will make DC one of the most desirable, energetic and creative hubs in the U.S.