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Plans for D.C.’s first-ever language-arts museum receive federal approval

Planet Word is expected to open at the historic Franklin School building in 2020

Franklin School building
Shutterstock

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) has green-lighted final site and building development plans for Planet Word, D.C.’s inaugural language-arts museum that is poised to debut at the historic Franklin School building downtown in spring 2020. Those plans include exterior signs, lighting, and an entry gate on K Street NW that would lead to a welcome plaza.

In the preliminary plans for the museum that the NCPC approved in March, the entry gate “was intended to resemble a book opening and closing,” according to a staff report for the commission’s July 11 meeting, but the commissioners said such a design seemed “heav[y]” and could pose security risks. The development team, led by philanthropist Ann Friedman and featuring architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle, revised the gate design to “relate to the vocabulary of the Speaking Willow sculpture”—a talking tree—“located in the new terrace.”

“The Speaking Willow is visible and framed ... while the gate is open,” the report explains. “When the gate is closed, passers-by can see still the Speaking Willow and the rest of the courtyard, avoiding the feeling of a gated community.” The entry gate is made up of three three sliding panels that retract behind a fourth and it is separate from the historic building.

Standing at 925 13th Street NW close to Franklin Square, the Franklin School was originally designed by architect Adolf Cluss in 1869. It has been vacant since 2008 and used to serve as a homeless shelter. The 51,000-square-foot building is also a national landmark and, in 2017, was set aside for redevelopment into Planet Word by Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration.

But last year, the development team admitted to removing “significant amounts” of legally protected historic interiors, or “fabric,” from the building—including original plaster wall, brick walls, wainscoting, baseboards, pressed-tin ceilings, and floors—during construction work. The team struck a deal with federal and local officials to retain the remaining historic fabric and replace certain components of what had been lost. Work began again in January.

Planet Word will host interactive exhibits and events. Parts of the design plans follow below.

Proposed flush to grade lighting details of monument sign at paved entry
Planet Word/Beyer Blinder Belle
Proposed flush to grade lighting details at banner sign in grass area
Planet Word/Beyer Blinder Belle
Rendering of K Street NW entry gate, open
Planet Word/Beyer Blinder Belle
Rendering of K Street NW entry gate, closed
Planet Word/Beyer Blinder Belle

Franklin School

963 13th Street Northwest, , DC 20005