In its new iteration as luxury condos, The Oronoco has helped foster the redevelopment of its north end Alexandria, Va., neighborhood.
Thomasarledge.com In its new iteration as luxury condos, The Oronoco has helped foster the redevelopment of its north end Alexandria, Va., neighborhood.

The once-modern office building at the quiet end of town had become heavy-looking and outdated.

Although the building wasn’t old, dating back only to 1986, it had outlived its usefulness as headquarters for the Sheet Metal Workers International Association. By late 2011, the trade group occupied only part of one floor. The main tenant, the federal government’s General Services Administration, was also relocating.

The Oronoco building before its transformation, when it served as headquarters for the Sheet Metal Workers International Association.
Courtesy EYA The Oronoco building before its transformation, when it served as headquarters for the Sheet Metal Workers International Association.

The building was situated in Alexandria, Va., a city of 150,000 in the backyard of the nation’s capital. Yet, despite its convenient location and view of the Potomac River, most companies considered the structure’s 155,000-square-foot footprint too small, its C shape awkward, its courtyard a waste, and its windows too small for sufficient natural light.

But developer EYA saw the site’s potential. The firm, based in nearby Bethesda, Md., had completed enough adaptive-reuse projects to recognize a diamond, even if it needed substantial polishing.

EYA knew that the footprint that wouldn’t work for offices could be ideal for residences, due to its single-loaded corridors. And with new, bigger windows, all the units would have ample light, many with riverfront views. The stepped-back configuration even allowed for multiple roof terraces.

Photo: Thomasarledge.com
Thomasarledge.com The building's stepped-back configuration permits multiple, cascading roof terraces. 

The location was transit oriented, as well, with a nearby Metro and public bus stops; access to water taxis to Georgetown and the National Mall; and underground parking that would have been exorbitant to build from scratch.

And the timing couldn’t have been better. The location, at the north end of Alexandria’s historic Old Town, was being developed for greater mixed use and walkability. But it lacked one-level luxury condos for the mostly older, affluent residents who lived in the community, wanted to downsize, and no longer found multiple-level townhouses appealing. Another, subgroup was foreign buyers, given the proximity to Washington, D.C.

Imaginative Design
Because local zoning restrictions limited new-construction heights to 50 feet, adapting the 70-foot-tall building seemed almost a no-brainer, says Brian Allen Jackson, a managing partner and senior vice president at EYA. Patrick Burkhart, AIA, whose D.C.-based architectural firm, Shalom Baranes Associates, transformed the building, adds that the restriction “also saved time, since it could have taken 12 months just for demolition. It also cost less to repurpose.”

Yet, adapting the building, named The Oronoco Waterfront Residences because it fronts Oronoco Bay Park, required imagination. “[People] thought it looked like a beached cruise ship,” Burkhart says.

The architects removed the aluminum-paneled exterior, painted bronze-brown, which they—and others—considered an eyesore, and recycled the material as part of their application for LEED Silver certification. The team reskinned the formerly brown-brick façade with an elegant combination of red brick that matches area buildings; insulated aluminum panels with a high-performance metallic finish; and floor-to-ceiling windows.

The architects also removed solar water heaters from the existing terraces, to gain outdoor living space, and extended each living unit with a 5-foot-wide glass bay.

Because of the difficulty in finding area parking, EYA retained the garage, but not all of its 350 spots, which would have proved wasteful. Instead, the developer kept 150 spaces—more than two per unit. “We had a deep knowledge of the submarket we were selling to,” says Jackson.

The stairs and elevators were replaced to meet code, and a floating wood floor was added on top of the concrete slab to accommodate plumbing and sound attenuation. The new floor system was built with pine sleeper joists and a plywood subfloor, with pre-finished, solid-oak plank flooring on top. 

Right on Target

Unlike Millennials, who desire multiple public spaces to socialize and will make do with smaller units, The Oronoco’s target cohort wanted the opposite: expansive space and fewer shared areas. The building’s density permitted up to 110 condos, but EYA limited the number to 60 to provide 2,000- to 4,000-square-foot, two- and three-bedroom units—smaller than most buyers’ prior homes but hardly “small.” The open-style kitchen–dining–living rooms reflect how most age groups now want to live.

The Oronoco's open kitchen–dining–living rooms reflect how most age groups
now want to live. 
Thomasarledge.com The Oronoco's open kitchen–dining–living rooms reflect how most age groups now want to live. 

The Oronoco’s public spaces include a two-level lobby, fitness–yoga center, meeting space, playroom for visiting grandchildren, 24/7 concierge desk, bike storage (the building abuts the popular Mount Vernon Trail), dog washing room, and landscaped outdoor pool. Sabine Roy of SR/A Interior Design in Chevy Chase, Md., developed a sophisticated look echoing swank hotels: an off-white and gray palette, French limestone, cherry paneling, and photos of federal buildings.

Sleek kitchens feature an off-white and gray backdrop accented with cherry cabinets and French limestone counters.
Thomasarledge.com Sleek kitchens feature an off-white and gray backdrop accented with cherry cabinets and French limestone counters.

Since the project opened last August, 55 units have sold, with prices between $1.59 million and $4.49 million.

Joseph and Nancy Resende represent typical buyers. They moved eight blocks south, from their 3,500-square-foot townhouse to a 2,700-square-foot condo. “We were ready for a lifestyle change,” says Joseph, president of the building’s homeowners association. He credits The Oronoco with helping to kick-start the north end’s redevelopment.

That’s a pretty powerful change artist.

AT A GLANCE
Project name: The Oronoco Waterfront Residences, Alexandria, Va.
Former use: Headquarters of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association
New use: Luxury condo
Size: Six stories, 60 units, 155,000 square feet
Developer: EYA, Bethesda, Md.
Architect: Shalom Baranes Associates, Washington, D.C.
Designer: SR/A Interior Design, Chevy Chase, Md.

LESSONS LEARNED 
1. Know your micromarket.
While many developers are focusing on luxury rentals for Millennials, these sprawling, one-level condos were inspired by their riverfront location and a void in the market for affluent empty-nesters and international buyers.
2. Understand the building’s structure. Because wood floors couldn’t be built directly atop the existing concrete, a floating wood floor system was added to conceal ductwork and baffle noise.
3. Pick technology wisely. This demographic cares greatly about security, especially since many travel to other homes or come from abroad. So the developer added a gate to the courtyard, as well as a secure, electronic keycard entry system for the homeowners.