The Woods at Woodland Park
Some said the woods didn’t belong at this upscale office
project. The landscape architects had another idea.
By Dennis Carmichael, FASLA
C/O EDAW, photo by David Lloyd
In the sea of suburban sameness that is Herndon, Virginia,
one would hardly expect to find a dialogue in the landscape between euclidean
and fractal geometries. And yet, just such a fusion of art and ecology has
sprouted amidst the office towers and strip malls of this high-tech corridor.
Herndon lies outside Washington, D.C., straddling the toll
road that leads to Dulles Airport. It is the epicenter, along with Reston, of
the economic engine of technology—first hosting the offices of companies during
the Internet and dot-com boom of the 1990s and currently providing space for
this decade’s defense contractor boom. While the area is blessed with an
upsurge in development, it suffers from the placelessness that afflicts other
such boomtowns as the Silicon Valley, the Route 128 corridor near Boston, and
the Buckhead area of Atlanta.
Woodland Park is a 170-acre mixed-use development along the
Dulles Toll Road that was an office park in the 1980s and has since grown to
include residential, hotel, and retail uses. In 1998, EDAW was selected by the
owner, Tishman Speyer, to create a landscape master plan that would unify the
project, both the existing parcels and the planned ones, into an identifiable
whole. At that time, the site featured a dozen or so office buildings scattered
about with no discernible relationship to amenities or one another. The
architecture firm HOK had just completed a master plan for the eastern half of
the site that featured strong circulation patterns, elegant street wall
buildings, and a cluster of buildings around a central park. This plan gave
order to the most recent development, making the four-acre park the centerpiece
of the new workplace. As conceived by the architects, the park would feature
sweeping lawns, a gazebo, and an Olmstedian-style fountain.
On our first walk of the site, we had an epiphany about what
the character of the park should be. The site was a second-growth forest:
unremarkable for its intrinsic value, but remarkable for its very existence in
the middle of suburban sprawl. It dawned on us that if we were to implement the
image envisioned by the architects, it would be at the cost of this resource.
We did not want to create yet another real estate irony, where a place is named
for the resource it destroys. As scruffy as the woods were, they were the
woodland at Woodland Park and should become its signature.
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