Local Commentary

Editorial: Falls Church Chic

Tuesday’s “Developer Showcase” presentation at the luncheon of the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce was veritably breathtaking. A full house watched five different developers put forth every new development project that’s now underway in the commercial zones of tiny Falls Church, and taken cumulatively, it was stunning.

As we noted in the lead story of last week’s News-Press, at least one of the new buildings sports a truly unique and classic architectural style. The Young Group’s Read Building at 402 W. Broad St. is done in the style of the Glasgow School of early-20th Century Art Nouveau, and is unique to the entire D.C. Metro region for that.

Mr. Young has, so to speak, thrown down the gauntlet to his developer friends who have so much under construction in Falls Church now. Are they going to step up the way he has in bringing truly creative and aesthetically-pleasing architecture here?

Architecture does as much to establish and affirm the unique character of a community as anything else. This has been by-and-large forgotten (except in often-excessive special cases) in the last 50 years since buildings as boxes became the norm to optimize density and return on investment. This was signaled by the construction of a much-anticipated Hilton Hotel building in downtown San Francisco in 1974 that stunned and disappointed the entire city when it turned out to be a lifeless mass in the shape of a cube.

So little has been built in the commercial corridors of Falls Church since that time that this trend has, mercifully, not impacted here. The general rule has been to resort to so-called Williamsburg brick and the results have been, shall we say, mixed. The biggest project was the mid-1980s construction of George Mason Square at Broad and Washington, which reminds the public of Sing Sing more than a public square. Perpetuating the Williamsburg style in Falls Church would fail to distinguish it from Alexandria’s Old Town, which is light-years ahead in the use of red brick, or from anything else in the region.

We propose that the City Hall establish a set of incentives for developers to “get creative” with the architectural design of some of its key buildings. For example, the office building planned by Atlantic Realty for the 300 block of West Broad Street, a component of its City Center Redevelopment project. Perhaps added height could be allowed in exchange for using it to create a Chrysler Building look. Look at the current skyline of New York, and realize that those magnificent buildings, from an aesthetic standpoint, didn’t just happen by chance. (No, the News-Press is not advocating a New York skyline for Falls Church, just the notion of some engaging architectural style).

Falls Church must establish a unique character and stick to it as its development goes forward, and chic design should be a big part of that.