Art Nouveau Design Puts F.C. on Map
Many residents of the City of Falls Church have a habit of exalting their community for its “special” traits, including its quality of life and excellent school system.
Now, they can boast of another genuinely unique feature of their home town: not one but two highly novel and unique Art Nouveau multi-story buildings along its main Broad Street corridor.
Developer Bob Young of the Young Group unveiled the first stylized Vienna school Art Nouveau component of his new building going up at 800 West Broad St. this week, and the stunning look has drawn a wide range of reactions. It has already earned the structure the nickname, “The Flower Building,” coined by Councilman Dan Sze at Monday’s City Council meeting.
The building complements Young’s recently-completed Read Building at 402 West Broad St., designed with rounded arcs, round windows and iron features in the 19th century Art Nouveau Glasgow school tradition.
The two buildings, located within blocks of each other on the same north side of West Broad (Rt. 7), make Falls Church a destination for all students and fans of Art Nouveau, and generally innovative, architecture. The buildings are the only two of their kind in the Greater Washington, D.C. region, if not nationally, especially as newly-built structures.
The design on the new 800 W. Broad building, which will house the re-located U.S. Post Office and School Board offices, was met with high praise from members of the F.C. City Council Monday. Sze called it “impressive” and “pretty,” adding, “I am very proud of it.” Mayor Robin Gardner and Councilman Hal Lippman said they agreed.
Others, however, have not been so impressed. Comments on the popular Falls Church blog site, Blueweeds, have called it “crazy,” “absurd” and “ugly.”
On the other hand, other comments were more favorable. One wrote, “We always talk about being eclectic and bringing in more public art, and here it is! It is definitely a sight to behold. Much better than cookie-cutter buildings that everyone complains about because it is boring and too traditional. This is a nice addition to the City.”
Another commented, “Holy cow…I think it is a brilliant piece of public art.”
When told that one citizen called it “whimsical,” Young said, “That’s exactly right.”
Some have complained about the City Hall approval process that permitted the design, but others noted the building was constructed “by right,” without the need of any special City permission, although its design had been presented to the Planning Commission and Architectural Advisory Board, neither of which objected. One blog commentator said, “I like it. I don’t like governments completely legislating aesthetics.”
Young, in comments to the News-Press, noted that the component just unveiled, despite its visually-looming impact, covers only 20 percent of the building, and that a great deal more Art Nouveau features, especially vine-like and flower designs using iron, will be integrated into the rest of the building, which is due to be completed by March 2009.
Young first broke architectural, cultural and economic tradition in Falls Church with his first Art Nouveau building project, the Read Building, now home to a branch of the PNC Bank and Vantage Fitness, along with 40 residential units.
In addition to its unique design, the building bears the name of a Civil War era hero, John Read, who worked in and around Falls Church to educate freed slaves. He was martyred by Confederate forces for his efforts, and is buried in Falls Church.
Young chose to honor the memory of Read in consultation with some City historians after rejecting the recommendation of others to name the building for an original land-grant family based on Falls Church soil, because that family owned slaves.
The Read Building also constituted the first, official “workforce housing” project in Falls Church, as Young and the Falls Church Housing Corporation worked with the Falls Church City Public Schools to design residential units to the specs optimal for public school teachers. The units, at reduced cost, are now filled with many employees of the local school system, who ordinarily could not afford the high rents in the City.
Despite being based in McLean for years, Young has become a major benefactor of affordable housing and educational causes in Falls Church, including as a founding board member and chair of the non-profit Falls Church Education Foundation. His son was, for a time, a teacher in the Falls Church school system.
Concerning the 800 W. Broad building, architect Jack Wilburn, who designed the all-retail and commercial “flower building” and will locate his firm’s offices there, commented, “Following a mutual admiration for Fin de Siecle/Art Nouveau crafts, art and architecture, the decision was made to look to Austria turn-of-the-century architecture for inspiration much as Young’s previous building at 402 W. Broad looked to the Glasgow school. These turn-of-the-previous-century works have much the same eclectic blend of solid tradition and forward looking that seems appropriate to this city at the turn of this century.”
Among other things, the building is Gold LEED standard, according to an energy-efficiency and environmental rating system.