DC Alleys: Past, Present, and Future

Washington, DC’s historic alley network has become one of the most desirable locations to live— offering close-knit communities, unique architecture, and a human-scale setting. As changes in the DC Zoning Code continue to offer more opportunity for alley development, the likelihood of architects designing within this context has grown. However, there are numerous challenges—including contradictions in the code, lack of infrastructure, and issues of access. Meanwhile, there is a great deal of potential for responsible and sustainable development.

Please join AIA|DC and the Capital Area Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN) for a lively panel discussion among local experts and decision-makers about the past, present, and future of DC’s alley neighborhoods.

Presented by:
Christine Shiker - Partner, Holland & Knight
Thor Nelson - Washington, DC Office of Planning
Elizabeth Emerson - Principal and Co-Founder, EL Studio
Mark Lawrence - Principal and Co-Founder, EL Studio

Moderated by: Marisa Kashino - Senior Editor, Washingtonian

Marisa joined Washingtonian in 2009 as a staff writer, and she became a senior editor in 2014. In her current role, she writes feature-length narratives and oversees the magazine's coverage of home design and real estate. She lives in Northeast DC.

Panelist Bios: 

Christine Moseley Shiker is a partner in Holland & Knight's Washington, D.C. office. She is a member of the firm's Land Use and Government Team and serves as co-chair of the firm's Embassies and Sovereign Governments Practice. Ms. Shiker represents clients on a number of land use and zoning matters in the District of Columbia, including proceedings before the Zoning Commission, the Board of Zoning Adjustment and the District of Columbia Council.

Thor Nelson joined the DC Office of Planning in April 2008. He is an urban designer, focusing on urban revitalization planning, design review, and zoning review. Prior to working for the District, Mr. Nelson was an urban designer for the city of Baltimore, where he coordinated waterfront planning and design for redeveloping industrial areas of Baltimore's harbor.

Elizabeth Emerson’s architectural interests spring from the social and cultural. A native of the Washington DC area, Elizabeth’s research in design has engaged issues of social and environmental sustainability, individual and collective identity, and privatization.  She has taught at several institutions, most recently in the graduate Urban Practice concentration at Catholic University School of Architecture and Planning.

Mark Lawrence’s architectural interests stem from the place where he lives and works.  The alley-based studio in Washington DC serves as a testbed for researching a variety of scales from questioning urban infrastructural issues to materiality and detail.  As a board member of the Washington Architecture Foundation, Mark works to expand the education and action of architecture to underserved areas in the Washington region.

After attending this course, participants will be able to:

  • Explain the history of alley neighborhoods in Washington, DC, and how they have evolved over time;
  • Discuss the ways in which recent changes to the DC Zoning Code have affected alley development, and possible future changes that will enhance alley neighborhoods;
  • Describe and understand the legal ramifications of various zoning and permit issues affecting and allowing for further alley construction and development; and
  • Explore design opportunities for the future of DC’s alley network, offering a vibrant and unique living alternative for Washington DC residents.




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