Planet Word

A National Historic Landmark, the Franklin School, was renovated to serve as the home of Planet Word, a museum where language comes to life.

SizeTargeted Occupancy DateOccupancy DateCost
53,000 SFJune 15, 2020July 30, 2020
(6 WEEK covid delay)

Planet Word is a non-profit, free-admission, fully interactive, accessible museum celebrating words and language. Their mission is to inspire and renew a love of words, language, and reading through unique, immersive learning experiences. It is located adjacent to Franklin Square at 13th and K Streets NW in the historic Franklin School, a 53,000 square foot, five-story building designed by Adolf Cluss. Built in 1869, it was the first public school in Washington DC and the site of Alexander Graham Bell’s transmission of a “photophone” message, a precursor to today’s fiber-optic communications. The building’s striking architectural details led to its designation in 1996 as a National Historic Landmark and later, its selection to serve as the home of Planet Word. Blake’s role in its renovation was a labor of love.

The Challenge

The entire Franklin School property is owned by the District of Columbia and is under a 99-year ground lease to the developer which was awarded through the District’s Surplus Property Program. Sensitive but extensive interior renovations had to adhere to the strictest historic preservation standards. Strategic structural improvements were designed and implanted to achieve modern seismic and loading requirements without affecting the historic character of the structure. All historic features and materials were either retained, restored, or replicated while the building was upgraded to achieve life safety code requirements. Specific focus in this application was paid to: Interior stair assemblies; Fresco secco artwork in the Great Hall and new event space; Maintaining interior layout and providing modern climate control.

The Solution

In order to meet historic preservation requirements and to open the museum on a tight schedule, Blake was instrumental throughout the entire redevelopment project:

  • We worked with the leaseholder, its legal counsel, and the DC Deputy Mayor for Economic Development during lease negotiations.
  • We led the general contractor procurement effort and worked with the lease holder’s legal counsel to negotiate contracts for the design team, general contractor, and special consultants.
  • We represented the leaseholder in presentations to DC government agencies during the project including DDOT, Public Space Committee, DCRA, ANC 2F, and DSLBD.
  • We managed the contractor throughout construction and worked with the general contractor and leaseholder’s consultant to ensure compliance with CBE and FSEA requirements.
  • We managed the architect through the design phase and coordinated directly with city officials throughout the permit application process and execution of the lease.
  • We directly managed the certificate of occupancy process including pledging to achieve LEED Silver certification for the renovation. No outside permit expeditor was used on this project.
  • We led monthly tours of the building with the District’s historic preservation representatives from SHPO, NCPC, and NPS.

The End Result

The ground floor of the museum contains office and restaurant space as well as a one-story addition added to modify the accessible entrance to the building and to provide a loading dock. Above the one-story addition is the new entrance terrace and glass vestibule leading into the reception lobby. Additionally, the ground floor has a 125-fixed-seat auditorium, a gift shop, and two galleries. The second floor has six galleries and two historically restored classrooms that will be used to offer community programming at the museum. There are three galleries on the third floor and the Franklin School’s restored Great Hall which is used as both a gallery and an event space. The structure for the third floor, third-floor mezzanine, and fourth floor was rebuilt to achieve modern code requirements. The fourth floor has event space and two roof terraces; one is dedicated for mechanical equipment and one for events.

Community benefits of the renovation include a pocket park at the new entry plaza, free admission to a state-of-the-art museum experience, a full-service restaurant, community access to historically replicated classrooms, and a 150-seat auditorium.