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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

December 2007 Issue

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

The Woods at Woodland Park 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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