This article has been corrected with two facts: the exterior panels are glass, not porcelain, and in the summer of 2012, the horizontal band over the parking lot entrance was taken down for construction of 8711 Georgia Avenue. Thanks to readers for your comments. Clare Lise Kelly 9-12-12
Designed by architect Edwin Weihe in 1960, the American National Bank Building, at 8701 Georgia Avenue, is a fine example of an International style office building. When it opened in 1961, it was the tallest building in Silver Spring and featured severalÂ design innovations.
Architect Edwin Weihe placed the buildingâ€™s heating, cooling, and elevator equipment in a low roof penthouse, designed so that it is not immediately apparent from the streetview. Real estate columnist Joseph Byrne, of the Washington Star, observed that Weiheâ€™s design followed advice of the Washington Fine Arts Commission to avoid ugly penthouses prominent in Washingtonâ€™s skyline by 1961.
The structure has precast quartz mullions that are welded to the steel frame.Â Each mullion is 6 inches wide, 8 inches deep and 10 feet tall, and weighes 800 pounds.Â Two metal plates are embedded into the cast mullions and welded to metal plates sunk into the concrete superstructure.
A historic view of this building shows how little it has changed.Â One element that has been lost is the horizontal band at the street level that connects the parking lot entrance to the main building. This element was taken down in July 2012 for the construction of 9711 Georgia Avenue.
The modernist building with green glass panels certainly bear witness to the influence of such a landmark as Gordon Bunshaftâ€™s Lever House which dates from 1952.Â Lever House, Park Avenue, New York City, was a harbinger of the glass curtain wall technology that predominated mid-century commercial buildings.Â Note the horizontal section next to the tower, and the Le Corbusier style pilotis, both echoed in the American National Bank building.
Architect Edwin Armstrong Weihe (1907-1994) had a major influence on the development of downtown Washington.Â Known as â€śMr. Zoningâ€ť for his active role in modernizing city codes, he pioneered the innovative use of concrete in Washington, DC, and was known for his use of pedestrian arcades and graduated setbacks.
Specializing in office buildings, hotels, apartment buildings, mixed use buildings and other commercial structures, Weihe’s firm designed more than 90 office buildings in the K Street corridor and elsewhere in the District, and more than 100 large buildings in Crystal City, Baileyâ€™s Crossroads, and other urban centers.Â In Montgomery County,Â Weihe designed several other mid-century projects in the Silver Spring area including a store and apartment at 7614 Georgia Avenue NW (1940); Rock Creek Gardens apartments (1948), near Grubb Road and East West Highway; and Cape Cod houses for Carroll Knolls subdivision of 200 dwellings (1948), Forest Glen; and the F. W. Woolworth & Co. store (1954), Flower Avenue Shopping Center.
AÂ member of the AIA from 1946, Edwin Weihe received the first lifetime achievement awardÂ ever bestowed byÂ the Washington Chapter of the AIA, when he was presented with the Centennial Award in 1991.Â He was recognized for being the first architect to promote flat plate concrete construction as a solution to the cityâ€™s building height restriction, as well as for his pioneering the use of precast concrete as building cladding in the District.Â Edwin Weihe retired from active practice in 1987.Â He died in 1994, at the age of 87.
In the design phase, the Silver Spring office buildingÂ was originally called the Bank of Silver Spring but by the time it opened it was renamed the American National Bank, which company occupied the first and lower levels.Â It is now known as the Zalco Building.
The Bushey Drive Elementary School, in Wheaton, is a three-story, round school designed by Deigert and Yerkes in 1961.Â Â
As noted in my colleagueâ€™s recent post on round houses, round schools were also promoted for lower operating costs, greater efficiency, and lower building costs.Â In this era, round and hexagonal schools were built across the country.Â
In plan, the school had a middle story with common rooms (kitchen, library, general purpose room) and offices, sandwiched between top and bottom floors of classrooms.
David Norton Yerkes and Robert C. Deigert were partners in a Washington DC firm from about 1946 to 1966.Â Â In Montgomery County, projects designed by the firm include numerous custom houses and the Primary Day School in Bethesda.Â Noteworthy local projects are the U.S. National Arboretum Administration Building (1963) and the Netherlands Embassy.
The Bushey Drive School was for many years home to a theater group organized by Montgomery County Recreation Department.Â The theater group survives, named Round House Theatre, for its place of origin.Â Today, the Recreation Department has administrative offices at the Bushey Drive School which still accommodates theatrical performances.
The ongoing Lego (R) exhibit, Towering Ambition, at the National Building Museum has some very cool models of famous buildings, but also provides a play area for kids and families.
Rather than focus on cool buildings, like the exhibit, these prompts ask budding designers to think about places beyond the bounds of an individual building, to think like a town planner (and a rather progressive one at that).
I think their next exhibit should be reproductions of great plazas, parks, and streets!
Before moving to the DC area two years ago, I had lived in New York City for the previous 18 . Never owned a car there (or a local driverâ€™s license!),and it wasnâ€™t until I relocated here that I realized how effortless it was to live a pedestrian life there…Stores were abundant and usually well stocked; restaurants, museums, and galleries were everywhere (…mostly frequented by tourists that we locals had to put up with); and in general whatever you needed ), was at your disposal 24 hours a day.
Itâ€™s been a bit of a struggle for me to sustain a similar pedestrian life here. I am still coming to terms with giving up an almost zero carbon footprint to the point of considering purchasing a car. (Iâ€™m not quite there yet, but even getting groceries in Montgomery County without one can be quite the task!). This is all understandable, given most of our urban centers are still in their infancy, but it has been interesting to me over the past two years that we have heard our efforts to organize density at the planning department characterized as attempts to â€śManhattanizeâ€ť the county. Far from it. Be assured, the phenomenon we now know as Manhattan came to be as result of a very specific set of circumstances that are not present in the county, and will not be, even if a few 300-foot buildings are constructed.
Once you have lived in a place such as NYC for a while, and if you pay attention to whatâ€™s around, you will get a â€śfrom the ground upâ€ť understanding of what the city is all about. Itâ€™s curious how visitors tend to look â€śupâ€ť most of the time, without realizing all the excitement happening around them. I am, of course, oversimplifying this, but could it be this is perhaps why some are so fixated on height as a main issue?
What I am trying to say is this: New York means a lot of different things to many, but itâ€™s a great laboratory to study urban life; one that can teach good lessons emerging semi-urban centers such as ours could benefit from, if we can get past our hang-ups about what’s too tall, or what’s too much. To observe how a complex city such as New York functions, and attempt to understand it as an interesting foil for human activity, can give us clues on how to steer our efforts to make our centers lively, and real.