VPIS Awards Highlight Outstanding Buildings, Landscapes in F.C.

THE TORNELL HOUSE on Rosemary Lane in Falls Church received VPIS’ Excellence in Design Award in 2012. (Photo courtesy VPIS)
THE TORNELL HOUSE on Rosemary Lane in Falls Church received VPIS’ Excellence in Design Award in 2012. (Photo courtesy VPIS)

A select few homes, buildings, and gardens in the City bear plaques, badges of honor bestowed by the Falls Church Village Preservation and Improvement Society. It’s not uncommon for area properties to have signs boasting their long history. Falls Church has its fair share of such historic residences. But the commendations that VPIS gives in its Excellence in Design Awards speak not to the winner’s longevity, but to its character and proper fit within the greater community.

“Mostly what we’re looking for is development that’s within the context of the community, that is done well with high quality and should be recognized,” said Keith Thurston, co-chair for the VPIS Design and Development Awards Committee.

City homes and commercial buildings, which have been built or renovated in the last five years, and landscapes can be nominated for the biennially honor. The Excellence in Design Awards have been given by VPIS since the late 1960s. This year’s nomination forms are available online at, and are due by June 30. Judging will occur later in the summer, and awards will be given by the civic organization at its fall meeting.

Each cycle, a committee seeks out accomplished and award-winning building or landscape architects to judge entries to the contest. Those judges must not practice in Falls Church or have entries in the City. Those architects are given a judging sheet with criteria determined by VPIS and visit each entry to make their deliberations, as opposed to only looking at images of the buildings or landscapes. Generally, the judges are considering design quality, execution, and congruence and compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood when evaluating entries.

All are invited to nominate a building or landscape for the honor. Homeowners or professionals involved with the project – designers, architects, builders – may do the nominating, but sometimes an impressed neighbor or other community member will make a nomination.

Typically VPIS receives between 10 and 20 nominations each cycle, but any number of those nominees that the judges deem worthy of the award can win the honor.

“We don’t want to artificially limit it,” Thurston said.

The most recent Excellence in Design Awards were given in May 2012 to five homes and one garden. The Lawrence-Ralls House of Great Falls Street, the Pohl-Infante House of S. Oak Street, the Tornell House of Rosemary Lane, the Durham House of N. Cherry Street, the Klarfeld House of E. Columbia Street, and the Gilmore-Beatty Garden of N. Virginia Avenue earned the honors that cycle.

Thurston sees giving the awards as an extension of the VPIS mission to preserve the City of Falls Church’s character.

“The awards are a way of recognizing great development in Falls Church and showing other homeowners and office buildings what the community would like to see,” Thurston said. “This is a way of recognizing what’s the very best, and publicly saying so by awarding these plaques.”