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Merit Award - DESIGN

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The Rehabilitation of Washington Plaza
Reston, VA

Stephenson & Good

Robert Good, ASLA
Principal, Stephenson & Good
815 N. Royal Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Tel. 703-548-2000;
Fax 703-548-8424

Project Purpose

Modern new town planning came of age in the United States in the early 1960s. Reston's first community — Lake Anne Village and its centerpiece, Washington Plaza, was quickly heralded as the vanguard of American suburban design, and the collection of residences, shops and a 15 story apartment tower around the lakefront plaza, became one of the most recognized designs in the world. Architectural critic Wolf Von Eckhart compared the plaza to Piazza San Marco in Venice and as "not a mere square, but a grand hall with the open sky its ceiling and the lake an ever-changing dimension." It has long been the image of Reston to the world and in 1982. Lake Anne Village was declared an historic district, establishing its place in the history of American new towns and contemporary design. Once on the very edge of collapse, the plaza, as a result of its rehabilitation, has become a catalyst for renewed interest in Reston's original designs and is in the forefront of efforts to preserve unique neighborhood communities nationwide.

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect was the principal consultant of a collaborative team of architects, engineers, fountain and graphics consultants. Responsible to a unique partnership of property owners, merchants and interested parties, as well as local and state oversight agencies, the landscape architect directed development of me overall rehabilitation program, budgets and priorities, technical research, design and construction. Critically, me landscape architect contacted Robert Simon, the developer of Reston, and the principal architect of Lake Anne, James Rossant. Their close collaboration with the rehabilitation team was a rare opportunity to go beyond record documents and ascertain not only technical aspects of the original construction, but also the philosophy of the designs. As a result, the landscape architect established the project's guiding principals as Authenticity of Idea first, Authenticity of Materials, second, and Authenticity of Methods, third, a philosophy that has since the subject of presentations and articles locally and nationally.

Special Factors

Recognition of the significance of the overall design of me plaza posed issues regarding the treatment of its individual parts. Often typical of contemporary design, experimental details combined with the technological knowledge of the time - in this case, particularly the use of concrete as an exposed/expressed element of design rather than a purely structural material - were of mixed results. Two elements in particular presented singular challenges and required Innovative approaches. A unique fountain, central to the plaza design, was at the point of collapse, and a prominent lakeside wall of Individual concrete panels had failed.

Designed by Rossant, the original fountain's form works were constructed from a clay model by cabinetmakers. Each piece was unique. Thirteen small pot-Iike forms were struck by a potter and then broken away after the concrete had set. The poured-in-place concrete forms, up to 18 feet high, did not hold up and suffered critical deterioration. The waterworks had begun to fail in the mid-1970s and were largely inoperable. Restoration of the original pieces was decided against because of their extremely deteriorated condition and a complete replacement was initiated.



Key efforts centered on research of the original concrete mixtures and sources, formulation of concrete mixtures to match original matrices, as well as desirable character and patina that had developed over time, and incorporation of contemporary concrete technologies. Because the fountain was constructed of highly eccentric forms, accurate measured drawings could not be made. The fountain was photographically recorded and drawings to precisely locate the replacement elements after demolition were prepared. New formwork was built by a master carpenter, board by board around the existing fountain elements, approved by the landscape architect and then removed for demolition of the original fountain. An entirely new waterworks system was designed to produce the precise range of the original effects, down to replicating a humorous minor flaw.

The 350 foot long panel wall along the lakefront boardwalk was conceived - according to Rossant - as a "visual dialogue between the lake edges of the quay, with the sloping panels In contrast to the high and Visually powerful sheer concrete wall across the quay -something other than a wall". The original panels were to be supported by a soil slope and held in position by tension between the retaining walls at the top and bottom. However, the panels fell out of position. Inspections revealed that the panels, originally intended to be precast, had been Individually cast in place against the soil and scuppers. Intended to convey storm water from the plaza to the lake through me wall had failed, causing erosion of the supporting slope. The original planting of honeysuckle intended by Rossant as an "adornment" on the panels had become overgrown and unruly. As with the fountain, it was decided that restoration of the original panels could not be reasonably achieved. The original design was structurally unsound and if replaced similarly, failure could be anticipated to reoccur. Moreover, resetting the heavy panels, which varied widely in thickness and many of which were cracked or broken, would be virtually impossible. A replication of the wall of more than 200 individually precast panels was designed with a bracket supporting system independent of the slope behind. A new planting of boston ivy replaced the honeysuckle and provides the original intent of an adornment over the wall panels. The dialogue Rossant had desired was re-established Additional elements of the project Included careful Integration of ADA components, extensive resetting and replacement of original pavements including the original brick pavers in the fountain basin. restored and new retaining walls, new seating and planters for seasonal color display, restoration of the original lighting. a new public transit waiting station and a graphics program.


The Washington Plaza is an Icon of modern design and new town planning recognized by generations of landscape architects, architects and planning professionals throughout the world Moreover, It IS treasured by those who have chosen to live there. In directing its rehabilitation, the landscape architect and design team was lauded for their "noble resistance to overlaying their personal design signatures on such a recognized work" by an honor award for exceptional design from Fairfax County Virginia's Board of Supervisors. The effort at Washington Plaza exemplifies many Issues regarding the treatment of contemporary designs, as they threaten to slip between cracks of the requirements for traditional historic designation and preservation and be lost, and it has extended philosophical discussions for a fledgling movement of the profession of landscape architecture In the Identification and husbandry of significant contemporary designs.

2001 Award Winners
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