Eight Ways to Build a Better Urban Park

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New York City’s High Line park offers lessons for public space design in Montgomery County’s urban centers

More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. Cities and urban-style environments will house two-thirds of humanity by 2050. Montgomery County is in sync with this trend as many of its communities, including Bethesda and Silver Spring, transform into urban places with higher densities.

As our planet urbanizes, interest in studying the effects of nature on the human mind and body is increasing. Growing evidence suggests that daily exposure to nature boosts our health, productivity and creativity. Children in particular benefit greatly from regular intervals of time spent in natural environments.

These positive results underscore the importance of … Continue reading

Montgomery County’s Think Tank

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The Planning Department’s Research and Special Projects Division undertakes cutting-edge studies to influence important decisions about the county

Our plans rely on accurate data about demographics, housing, commercial real estate and the economy to inform recommendations and decisions about land use. This information is carefully gathered by a dedicated group within the Planning Department – the eight staff members of our Research and Special Projects Division – who help us get ahead of the planning curve with their ongoing investigations.

We like to call this division “the think tank for the county” because it provides a wealth of intelligence for the County Council and various government agencies. Currently, the research staff is hard at work on several important studies … Continue reading

From Corporate Offices to Centers of Learning

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Changes in work patterns and population growth are leading to new types of schools

Walking past 8000 Jones Branch Drive in Tysons Corner, it is easy to assume that offices occupy this regular, three-story building. Entering its light filled atrium, however, does not reveal a corporate lobby or water cooler talk, but a gathering space where hundreds of chattering students dart between classes and engage in extracurricular activities. Welcome to Basis Independent School, a new type of center for learning.

Basis Independent is a private K-12 school that sits within the 120,000 square feet of this former Tysons Corner office building. This renovation project was designed by the DC architecture firm Perkins Eastman with Gilbane as the design-build partner. … Continue reading

Montgomery Modern Bus Tour 2017

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Montgomery Modern Tour Day 2017 featured modernist buildings designed by the Silver Spring architecture firm Cohen, Haft & Associates. This event, held on Sunday, October 8, was our fourth annual Montgomery Modern Tour and was co-sponsored by AIA Potomac Valley and Docomomo DC.

Tour leader Clare Lise Kelly (right) of the Montgomery County Planning Department greets Tina Patterson, the newest Planning Board member, who joined the group on the bus.

We boarded the bus at the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville.

Our first stop was The Hilltop at Seven Hills Lane, a 10-acre woodland neighborhood of 32 modernist houses designed by Cohen, Haft & Associates. Developed by Albert Brodsky and Edith Matthews, The Hilltop … Continue reading

Converting Office to Residential Is Complicated

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Economics, location, architectural design and zoning regulations play important roles in determining new uses for vacant office buildings

In a previous blog post, we explored trends likely to impact the adaptive reuse of office buildings, as illustrated through the Octave 1320 office-to-residential conversion in downtown Silver Spring. With its final unit now sold, the successful project prompted us to think about the future of office conversions in Montgomery County.

As cited in the 2015 Office Market Assessment and noted in countless other reports and news articles, the Washington region’s office market currently faces stiff headwinds that are likely to continue in the foreseeable future.  Montgomery County is no exception. As of July 2017, the office vacancy rate in the … Continue reading

Planning Reality Check

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Recent analysis of three past plans reveals goals for housing and public facilities were accomplished, while visions for commercial spaces and transit have been slower to achieve

Planning, by design, is a forward-looking field and with 20 to 30-year plan horizons. Planning departments don’t often look back to see what happened with their visions. Such analysis is usually too challenging – staff who have worked on the plan have moved on and departments don’t often have the capacity or resources to handle such a task along with their day-to-day planning work.

The Montgomery Planning Department, however, decided to tackle this task in 2016 with three plans.  We wanted to find out what had happened in different types of … Continue reading

Celebrate Design Excellence in Montgomery County

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Planning Department’s annual awards will be announced on October 19

The Montgomery County Planning Department is finalizing preparations for its third annual Design Excellence Award celebration on October 19, 2017 at the Silver Spring Civic Building. This event will be held from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in conjunction with the American Institute of Architects Potomac Valley Chapter’s design awards program.

This year, the Planning Department will recognize two top awards, one for excellence in architecture and urban design, and a second for great spaces and landscapes. More than 25 exceptional works of architecture, landscape architecture and urban design completed in Montgomery County over the past decade have been submitted for review in September 2017 by another outstanding independent jury … Continue reading

Boskey House, 5116 Baltimore Ave (1949) Deigert and Yerkes, architects

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Last fall we featured the work of architectural firm Deigert and Yerkes in our Montgomery Modern Bus Tour 2017. Now a custom Deigert and Yerkes house has been listed on the market. The Boskey House is tucked away on a wooded lot in the Westgate subdivision, between Massachusetts Avenue and River Road. The low, horizontal form of the one-story front is well-anchored to the site.

Characteristic of Deigert and Yerkes-designed houses, the Boskey House is designed for maximum privacy, with an expert site plan and well-preserved natural setting. Dark-stained redwood siding, neutral-painted trim, and fieldstone base accents are features which serve to connect the house to its setting.

At the back, windows open to a view of mature trees, … Continue reading

Montgomery County Employment Trends: Federal Government Plays Key Role

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The Great Recession had a profound impact on industry and labor conditions throughout the United States. The ensuing recovery has been uneven – both geographically and across time – and today, many places have not recovered or have economies that differ from the pre-recessionary period.

Montgomery County’s economy was also affected by the Great Recession, however, its employment shrank less than those of other jurisdictions during the height of the recession. Our research shows that employment in the county declined 1.8 percent between 2008 and 2011, compared to 3.9 percent nationwide.

The reason for this tempered loss is the role played by the federal government in the county’s economy. Industries such as finance, construction, retail and others were supported … Continue reading

Heroic Architecture: a new look at Brutalism

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A new trend was the design of concrete buildings which expressed the natural character of this building material. Starting in the 1960s, Montgomery County business districts were punctuated by statement buildings that celebrate the raw nature of concrete.   The design of monumental buildings constructed with unfinished concrete cladding were influenced by the work of pioneering modernist Le Corbusier and his use of béton brut, or raw concrete.  The name was anglicized as Brutalism, a term which has acquired negative connotations.  More recently, the style has been dubbed Heroic architecture, as more people have come to appreciate these buildings for their honest expression and as a product of their time.

An early local example of Brutalism was the award-winning National … Continue reading