An Office Building’s Tenant Spaces Are Enhanced while Embracing Its Post-modernist Features

1st Place, Interior

Designed in the late 1980s by the iconic Philip Johnson, the original Franklin Square embodied the theatrical post-modernist style Johnson gravitated toward in the second-half of his career, with 20-foot-tall fluted columns, marble floors and bronze grillwork canopies. Four decades later, the Hickok Cole design team was tasked with modernizing 30,941 square feet of public tenant space to restore Franklin Square’s prominent reputation in Washington, D.C., and enhance its street presence, while preserving its post-modernist character.

A new custom structural glass wall system made with 25-foot, 8-inch-tall vision panels, supported by 1.0625-inch-thick laminated structural fins, showcases a grand double-height entry sequence and creates a direct visual connection to Franklin Square Park—the building’s namesake—across the street. For a seamless indoor-outdoor experience, the system’s four 25-foot bays are intentionally designed without visible steel connections. To provide the system with the necessary structural support, the project team elected to conceal the steel outriggers within the existing interior stone columns, simultaneously allowing them to preserve the building’s original stonework.

PHOTOS: Garrett Rowland; BEFORE PHOTOS: Franklin Square Project Team, Hickok Cole

An extended ground-floor footprint captures what was previously deep-set arcade space below the third floor for tenant use. Four custom backlit glass fixtures, fastened to the underside of the main entrance canopies, replace the building’s original shadow-casting canopy grills. Illuminated by thousands of LED panels and suspended 25 feet above ground, the fixtures extend through the lobby lounge and past the reception desks, attracting the attention of passersby and emphasizing the building’s depth and dramatic ceiling heights from afar. The fixtures culminate 105 feet later at the new café. Serving to further extend the lobby environment, the café bar and lounge were introduced by removing a wall behind reception and replacing what was the property management office, now located at the concourse level.

Inside, hospitality-inspired velvet and leather furniture, custom artwork and lighting, as well as leather-padded walls, bring warmth to the space and contrast the cool tones and dramatic quality of the preserved marble floors and 2-story fluted columns. The strategic incorporation of leather and velvet, as well as finishes, also help to reduce echo and glare caused by the abundance of stone and glass in the space. Peony murals—inspired by Johnson’s home garden—at the elevators, petal-detailed chandeliers in the cafe and other floral details lend an organic quality to the building’s linear geometry.

In the lobby, 33-foot-tall custom sculptures hang above two new slab openings and guide visitors toward a monumental stair. The stair connects the lobby to a concourse level, which had served as an underutilized storage area. To maximize accessible tenant spaces and provide new amenities, designers transformed the concourse into a large conference facility with catering capabilities and several smaller meeting rooms, as well as a state-of-the-art fitness center. To emphasize continuity of the design concept, piers on the concourse mimic the lobby’s bold fluted columns and create the illusion that they’re extending directly through the floor. On the opposite end of the lobby, a second slab opening, wrapped in glass railing, offers a glimpse of the concourse level from above while both slabs allow natural light from the curtainwall entrance to reach the lower level.

Apart from building tenants, members of the surrounding community have access to portions of the Franklin Square amenity spaces, such as the café, conference facilities and fitness center. As such, the lobby and amenities are designed for flexibility with reconfigurable furniture and neutral colors that can be easily modified for future working styles and evolving tenant needs. Small meeting spaces can convert to private offices, the conference center can be used for events or as rentable space, creating an additional revenue stream for the client.

To honor the building’s history and character, the most unique architectural elements from the exterior were preserved and repurposed throughout the space as décor, including bronze grillwork used as privacy screens for the concourse meeting rooms and several cast floral medallions integrated in the café walls. Salvaged slabs of original stone and marble are incorporated into the reclaimed lobby floor to maintain a consistent aesthetic respectful of the original design. Additionally, a great deal of Johnson’s work is preserved behind the new finishes. The leather panels, for example, are installed on top of existing stone wall cladding so that if they are removed, the original work could be revealed. Early demonstrations, research and testing were therefore essential to verifying existing conditions prior to installing new design elements, helping uncover potential problems while they could still be remedied, and mitigating impact and damage to existing historical elements.

In a complex blend of old and new, Franklin Square’s reinvigorated design accentuates its most elegant post-modernist features while providing tenants with a boutique office experience, unlike any other in the city. Delivered in October 2020, Franklin Square is adhering to safety guidelines and operating at limited capacity for the foreseeable future, ready to open its doors to the public and shine once more.

“The beautiful ceiling of light is a great insertion.”

Josiah Stevenson, FAIA, LEED AP, principal, Leers Weinzapfel Associates, Metamorphosis Awards Judge

Retrofit Team



  • Robert L. Holzbach, AIA, LEED AP, principal, director of Commercial Office
  • Bertin Radifera, AIA, senior associate, project manager
  • Andrew Bickell, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, associate, project architect
  • Rhea Vaflor, IIDA, LEED AP ID+C, associate principal, director of Lifestyle




MEP ENGINEER: Greenman-Pedersen Inc.




CURTAINWALL GLASS: Kensington Glass Arts Inc.


DESK, BENCHES AND LEATHER PANELS: Gaithersburg Architectural Millwork


WOOD PANELS: Architectural Veneers Intl.

CHANDELIERS: Marcel Wanders


CARPET: Milliken

RUG: Jamie Stern

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