Shalom Baranes Associates
- Written by: Kelly Matlock
- Produced by: Lindsey McKenna
- Estimated reading time: 6 mins
In 1981, only five years into his career, Shalom Baranes departed the architecture firm he worked for in Washington, D.C., to found Shalom Baranes Associates (SBA). SBA, with an office in the historic Georgetown neighborhood, has since been integral in shaping the urban landscape of the nation’s capital. Over the last three decades, the firm has become a trusted partner to local and national developers alike.
Baranes is joined in his work by a handful of senior principals who have been with SBA since the beginning. The expert architects at SBA lend the firm an acclaimed reputation for an ability to tackle large-scale challenging projects, earning scores of design awards and a high ranking on Engineering News Record’s list of 500 best firms nationwide in the process.
Understanding the region and its needs
SBA is strictly an architecture design firm; among its 100-some employees there is not one engineer or interior designer. Instead, Baranes keeps SBA’s focus on designing buildings and quickening the architectural review process unique to the district.
The company also focuses 95 percent of its energy on the DMV region, which entails D.C., Maryland and Virginia; a regional concentration that is unusual for a firm of its size. The firm has developed strong roots in its home turf and successfully competes with outside competitors, including large national firms.
Over the course of the past 33 years, SBA has gained the respect and trust of developers, the community and the officials who participate in the municipal and federal review process. Furthermore, as SBA secures approvals and permits during this process, the company is able to maintain design integrity. The key to SBA’s success lies in its ability to integrate modern buildings into the historic urban fabric of the Capital City.
“The work we do is entirely urban in nature,” explains Baranes of his firm’s primarily metro-accessible geographic area. Baranes goes on to note that SBA works in the private and public sector designing commercial, governmental, residential and institutional buildings, including office complexes, federal headquarters, multifamily housing, luxury hotels and large mixed-use projects.
Blending the past and present
With Washington, D.C., serving as the seat of the U.S. government, federal work is a major building sector. Many federal projects extend over multiple years; a 12- to 15-year life span is common for SBA’s major federal building efforts, and four to five of these years can be taken up by the approval process alone. Knowing how to navigate this process is essential in order to keep a project moving, and SBA does.
Such projects, with $200 to $300-million plus price tags, often incorporate historic landmark structures. SBA is a preservation work expert, and has completed an impressive portfolio of historic renovation projects ranging from just under 1 million square feet to over 5 million.
Among SBA’s recent work is the complete renewal of the historic Cannon House Office Building, part of the U.S. Capitol complex. Built in 1908, the Cannon House Office Building is the oldest congressional building on Capitol Hill.
SBA also provided full A/E services for the modernization and expansion of the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) national headquarters, the former Department of Interior Headquarters built in 1917. The 892,000-square-foot project is GSA’s showcase for high performance green design within its existing building stock, and its pilot Smart Building initiative. The building has been designed to achieve LEED Gold certification; construction of phase one, totaling $140 million and 423,000 square feet, was completed in 2013.
SBA’s design thoroughly modernizes the century-old structure by doing away with the outdated cubical layout and creating an open floor plan, installing ground-floor retail and incorporating numerous sustainable features, including photovoltaic roof panels and a greywater system. The project includes 134,000 square feet of new office space and a glass atrium flooded with natural light. SBA’s design successfully preserves an existing landmark while creating a high performance, healthy work environment for employees.
Other notable SBA projects are the full renovations of two National Historic Landmarks: the U.S. Treasury Main Building and the Pentagon. On the $1.2 billion Pentagon project, SBA was the prime architect for the design-build team that revamped four of five wedges – comprising 4.5 million square feet of the iconic structure. The massive project began in 2001 and was delivered on budget and ahead of the original schedule in 2012.
SBA enjoys a repeat clientele of federal and municipal agencies and a history of ongoing success in the public sector. At the same time, two-thirds of the work SBA undertakes is in the private sector.
Transformative projects create neighborhoods
Of note, SBA often works with national developers targeting private sector work, including Forest City Washington, Hines and Trammel Crow, among others. Additionally, longstanding local developers and families that have been building in D.C. for several generations are also repeat clients. According to Baranes, clients lean on SBA’s extensive experience and understanding of local context.
SBA has completed some of the largest and most transformative projects – multi-year, multi-block projects – in Washington, D.C., in the last three decades. The work has created new neighborhoods, decades in the making, and includes two projects nearing completion, CityMarket at O and CityCenterDC.
CityMarket at O is a mixed-use project that greatly improves two vital blocks in the up-and-coming Shaw neighborhood, bringing with it a new Giant grocery store. The $260-million project incorporates and revitalizes the historic O Street Market building, constructed in 1881. The preservation of the rapidly deteriorating landmark and addition of retail, housing and public space has been highly anticipated by locals.
An even larger project, the seven-block, $1-billion CityCenterDC, has been a decade in the making and is nearing completion. The development, one of the preeminent real estate projects in the nation, brings condos, apartments, upscale retail, offices, a luxury hotel, a park, plaza and large underground parking garage to the heart of downtown D.C. As the design architect of the two apartment buildings, the executive architect for the entire project and associate architect for the master plan, SBA has been responsible for both the approval and construction of the entire project. A massive undertaking the team is happy to embrace.
On the boards for SBA is the build-out of an emergent area surrounding D.C.’s Convention Center at Mt. Vernon Square. “We’re designing a series of buildings there,” says Baranes. “Development of this area will create a whole new neighborhood.”
Another new neighborhood that SBA is designing, Burnham Place, is an unprecedented air-rights development that will be built on 14 acres atop the functional Amtrak rail yard adjacent to the city’s transportation hub, Union Station. In order to do this, SBA’s design relies on a massive steel and concrete platform that will be built over the rails and support 3.5 million square feet of commercial, residential, hospitality and retail space along with a public plaza and greenway for walking, running and biking.
The project, by local developer Akridge, will join together the central business district, Capitol Hill and several emerging areas. Baranes notes that the hardest part, the overall zoning approval, has already been tackled and the 20-year project should be underway in the near future.
SBA has experienced a tremendous amount of success over the last three-plus decades led by Baranes and his fellow principals. He is of the youngest architects ever inducted into the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows. It was fortunate that Baranes landed in the region, as it wasn’t by design. “D.C. wasn’t on my radar,” Baranes explains. “I ran into someone I knew and was invited to come down for an interview. Three days later, I was sitting at a drafting board.”
At SBA’s genesis, not knowing how the firm would fare, Baranes, with a bachelor’s and a master’s from Yale, hired only a couple of people for a six-month run. However, Shalom Baranes Associates quickly established itself in Washington and the rest is history.
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