Ankie Barnes Speaks at Design Leadership Summit

“It’s a city that chews up architects and spits them out.” That’s how Paul Goldberger, the noted architecture critic and contributing editor to Vanity Fair, described Washington at the Design Leadership Network Summit here last week. Ankie Barnes was on a panel Goldberger moderated to discuss that notion, in addition to other ideas about what makes the design climate in DC different from other cities from an architect’s point of view.

l-r: Paul Goldberger, Ankie Barnes, Richard Levy, Amy Weinstein

Ankie, along with Richard Levy of the Levy Group and Amy Weinstein of Gensler, all agreed that the myriad levels of permitting review are unlike most cities. With so many hurdles to jump between city, federal and historic review boards—and the requisite revisions that come out of each level—the process can greatly compromise an architect’s design.

“To some degree, we have to practice architecture like children here in Washington,” Ankie said. “You’ve got two sets of parents—DC and the Federal Government regulating everything we do. We are unique and symbolic parts of a huge bureaucracy.” He recounted work he did on the former Corcoran Gallery early in his career, and the plans had to go through 12 different review agencies. “That’s why there are so few architects who live here!” he joked.

l-r: Ankie Barnes, Amy Weinstein, Paul Goldberger and Richard Levy

But with a practice that’s still thriving 30 years later, Ankie is a survivor, as Goldberger remarked. He even praised the city’s system of checks and balances: “Anyone who lives and works in Washington is completely aware of the symbolism. It gets under your skin. There’s a responsibility to working here,” he said. The review boards, he added, “are the stewards of these ideals. They are the interpreters of what keeps the city beautiful, of what keeps the city in scale.”

Indeed, Ankie knows so much about the city’s classical architecture that he led a tour of the DC monuments for conference participants on Wednesday.

Instagram post by Marmi Natural Stone

When the wide-ranging panel discussion turned to private residences in Washington, Ankie also praised the city’s well-heeled stock of historic design. “A lot of the really finer buildings that one inherits are historically protected; they are so good, and of such good scale, that the notion of tearing it down is remote and not part of the discussion.” In the last 10 years especially, as homebuyers have flocked back into the city, there’s a been a renaissance of old homes being renovated and recycled, across all its quadrants. “A lot of older neighborhoods have come back,” Ankie said, “and their scale and walk-ability are just fabulous.”