The pioneering suburban community of Reston was founded on innovative modern architecture. Its creator, Robert Simon, commissioned leading architects of the 1960s to design clusters of townhouses and detached homes with flat roofs and expanses of glass.
By the time Reston Town Center opened in 1990, historicism was all the rage. The center’s first structures reflected that backward-looking design in curving and banded masonry facades, and domed pavilions. Its core grew to resemble an old-fashioned downtown with buildings arranged on a grid of streets, alleys and squares. Good urbanism, not stand-out architecture, came to characterize this ensemble as it filled out in the 2000s.
Today, its last blocks are being completed with a welcome return to modern design. The newly completed Signature development on 4.5 acres next to Reston Parkway and Presidents Park serves as a gateway to the urban core. From a distance, the brick apartment complex blends into the Reston skyline as another boxy masonry building, but it becomes more interesting close up.
Boston Properties, the owner and manager of Reston Town Center, has developed Signature with the same attention to detail as evident in the older sections of the mixed-use district. The residential buildings accommodate 508 units in two towers and townhouse-style bays, share amenities and a landscaped courtyard, and incorporate ground-level retail. The 20,000-square-foot storefront on the south side will be occupied by a Balducci’s market this summer.
Architect Robert Sponseller of Shalom Baranes Associates designed Signature with the same planar crispness as reflected in his previous residential projects, including the Vita apartments at Tysons Corner and Eleven55 Ripley in Silver Spring.
Like Signature to its north, 17Fifty will be separated into wings of varying height with ground-floor retail.
He anchored the L-shaped complex with a 19-story tower to the east and 21-story tower to the west, and skillfully composed the buildings to reduce their apparent size. Projecting and setback bays allow for more variety of unit designs and double the exclusive real estate opportunities from four to eight corners per building.
Custom beige and textured, dark gray bricks are applied to different sides to create visual contrasts. Staggered patterns of windows and balconies, and terraces cut into the corners further break up the massing.
Set between the towers is an entrance pavilion that incorporates attractive lobbies, lounges and meeting rooms designed by the Hartman Design Group of Rockville. From the outside, however, this two-story connector adds little in the way of architectural expression, other than stout brick piers.
The most striking part of Signature are eight bays extending along the northern edge of the west building. With their flat roofs, metal-wrapped glass walls and brick-walled gardens, these townhouse-style structures relate to Reston’s midcentury modern past. Their six stories succeed in mediating between taller apartment blocks and pedestrian realm.
Another asset of the project is its parking. Instead of being contained in a separate garage as in the original town center, the spaces for vehicles are located within the west building and screened by perforated metal panels that add an industrial flair.
Planned for a site south of Signature is a 17-story office tower also designed by Sponseller for Boston Properties. The 275,000-square-foot structure called 17Fifty will be sheathed in glass and lined with deep aluminum fins to screen sunlight and articulate the exterior.
This design is part of a promising shift to glassy commercial architecture in Reston that began noticeably last year with 1900 Metro Plaza next to the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station. Chicago architect Helmut Jahn created this cross-braced glass wedge to grab attention from the Dulles Toll Road. While not as refined as the Signature and older architecture of Reston Town Center, this trophy building is refreshingly bold and establishes a marker in the suburban landscape.
According to Fairfax County officials, 2.2 million square feet of commercial development and 3.3 million square feet of residential buildings have been approved or under construction in Reston since 2014 when the Silver Line Metro opened. This wave of development offers many opportunities for fresh design, including a 20-acre site next to the future Reston Town Center station.
Boston Properties is developing the mixed-use, transit-oriented complex called Reston Gateway around a 1.5-acre park at its heart, applying lessons from the original town center. Parking will not be relegated to garages at the periphery of the development but located underground or within the buildings as at the Signature, said Boston Properties Executive Vice President Peter Johnston.
Architecture will contrast with Reston’s older commercial core, says Johnston, and feature more glass. The chosen architects include Duda Paine of Charlotte, North Carolina, the designer of a striking corner structure in the existing town center. Among this firm’s recent projects is an angular, glass-clad headquarters in Atlanta for NCR, a maker of point-of-sale terminals and other systems.
Let’s hope similarly dynamic architecture is created for Reston Gateway and nearby developments. Future designs should continue to follow the contemporary direction now advancing in Reston and connect with the suburban community’s modern roots.
Deborah K. Dietsch, a freelance journalist who covers architecture, art and design and authored “Architecture for Dummies,” writes the Design Perspectives column for Real Estate Inc. Extra.
Reston’s last blocks are being completed with a welcome return to modern design.