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Read Building Is Unique to Entire Region

The big banner hanging off the new building reads that the first occupant, a boutique fitness facility, will be open for business in May. Well, it’s May!


On the site of the old Falls Church Service Center at 402 West Broad in downtown Falls Church, the new, mixed-use, four-story so-called Read Building is now near completion.
The old car repair company offered fantastic service at the site for decades. But nobody ever accused it of being aesthetically pleasing, except perhaps in the eyes of those with an affinity for a certain type of grunge.
Now, however, what has risen there is unique to the entire Northern Virginia region, so we are told.
It is a monument, in the mind of its developer Robert Young, that calls for a return to a refreshing architectural sensibility amidst all the new growth swarming over the wider area.
For months, as the outlines of the new building emerged, the 40,000 drivers-by on West Broad Street have noted the unique look the building brings: the large arches articulating the entry way in the front, the round windows on the sides, the unique brick detailing.
A dramatic departure from the Williamsburg Colonial brick look that has been preferred in Falls Church for years, and is undifferentiated through much of Northern Virginia, the Read Building offers a distinctive architecture that is inspired by the early 1900s’ Glasgow School of Art Nouveau.
Headed by Charles Renee Mackintosh, the school specialized in the use of large arches on a small building and other unique features.
According to Young, the architect for his new building, Jack Wilbern of Butz-Wilbern, shares Young’s special interest in “turn of the century design such as Beidermeier and Art Nouveau.”
The design elements reflecting these influences, Young said, include:
    * The large arches on a small building,
    * Strong attention to brick detailing such as the contrast banding and the trompe l’oeil in the cornice of the building making it appear to be more articulated than is actually the case,
    * The additional layer of metal fretwork added to the storefront windows under both of the arches and elsewhere on the building are strongly in the Art Nouveau tradition, the use of floral and plant forms. “This seemed particularly fitting given the City’s continuing strong interest in trees and landscaping,” he said.
The unique architecture is the third novel feature of the building provided by the McLean-based Young and his Young Group, Inc., in his first ground-up construction project in the City of Falls Church.
The other two creative “firsts” for Falls Church represented in the project are its name and the type of housing many of its residential units will provide.
In the selection of the name for the building, Young rejected the recommendation of the City’s Historical Commission to name it after an original land-grant settler in the area, as has been the automatic choice of other developers here.
Approached by some local civic activists, Young was reminded that those early settlers were also slave owners, and that it might be a more progressive idea to find someone to name the building for who was a champion of civil rights, instead.
He did, withdrawing a name he’d originally chosen and advertised, and replacing it with one honoring a Civil War hero, John Read, who worked in Falls Church to teach freed slaves to read during the heat of wartime, and was eventually shot and killed for his efforts by Confederate soldiers.
The second creative “first” involved the proffer by Young to provide, for the first time ever, “workforce housing” in Falls Church designed specifically to function as an incentive to recruit good teachers into the City’s school system. The units were designed in collaboration with the Human Resources division of the school system, and will become available next fall to new teacher recruits.
Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields told the News-Press he’s delighted with the unique architecture of the Read Building, and hopes it will lead to more, especially as the new City Center redevelopment gets underway.
“We will be looking for more icon-type buildings to provide Falls Church with a distinctive, attractive look,” he said, noting that the City could never match Alexandria, for example, if it stuck to Williamsburg colonial.
He noted there is a “new aesthetic” associated with the functionality of new “green” buildings, saying that “form following function” principles in architecture could lead to new attractive options.
Little discussion of such factors has occurred between City officials and prospective developers here yet, but Young says he hopes his “signature” Read Building will inspire others to follow his example.