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Accomplished modernist architect Eason Cross died on January 28, 2016. A Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Cross was a principal of Cross & Adreon, a firm known for modernist residential developments designed to harmonize with nature. Their projects received prestigious design awards when they were first built 50 years ago, and these communities have continued to receive recognition for being outstanding places in which to live. The work of Cross & Adreon was recently featured in David Frey’s “30 Great Neighborhoods” in the current issue of Bethesda Magazine (Mar/Apr 2016) (pdf). Cross worked seven years in the offices of prominent local architect Charles Goodman, first as draftsman and later as associate architect. In this capacity, he designed houses in… Read more »

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The exuberant mid-century modern design of commercial signs captures the entrepreneurial spirit of mom and pop shops that thrived during the post-World War II population boom of Montgomery County. With loud colors and catchy shapes, the quirky signs howled for the attention of passing motorists. In recent years, the style has been dubbed Googie, after colorful California coffee shops of the day. These roadside signs are a record of the past, modern design, and the independent businesses that were staples to county residents.     Sporting a tall cold beverage, the sign for Talbert’s Ice and Beverage Service advertises cold beer, dry ice, and regular ice.  The store building, at 5234 River Road in Bethesda, was built in 1946, according… Read more »

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Architect: Thomen and Cromar 911 Silver Spring Avenue, Silver Spring The Montgomery Professional Building, located on Silver Spring Avenue, in downtown Silver Spring, was designed by architects Thomen and Cromar. The current photos in this post were taken May 21, 2014. Exactly 54 years earlier, the Washington Post published Thomen and Cromar’s proposed scheme for 911 Silver Spring Ave. The rendering has a strong geometric outline that was popular in the county for architectural designs in the late 1950s.  As built, the final design has a strong vertical pylon that had become popular by 1960.  Visual interest comes from a variety of wall surfaces of stone, concrete, and brick.  The pylon, bearing lettering with the building name, is sheathed with… Read more »

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Robots in Silver Spring Who knew? Silver Spring was home to a pioneering robot. The TransfeRobot was an early standardized, off-the-shelf programmable robot, developed in 1958 and offered for sale in 1959. U. S. Industries started making the robots at 949 Bonifant Ave (more on that later).  The firm quickly outgrew that building and moved out to the new Montgomery Industrial Park. The sleek, modern building at 12345 Columbia Pike was designed in 1960 (architect unknown) and opened for production in 1961.  It was originally called the USI Automation Center, and was operated by the Robodyne Division of USI. This is the front façade of the headhouse that faces Columbia Pike. The TransfeRobot 200 could perform adaptable, repetitive tasks that made it… Read more »

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This past Saturday, the Montgomery County Planning Department and the Potomac Chapter of the American Institute of Architects participated in the nationwide docomomo event by sponsoring a tour of some of Montgomery County’s mid-century modern buildings. The tour began at GEICO, where the soft, sweeping lines of the Victor Kling campus contrast with the rectilinear facades and composition of buildings. Across the street, The Irene apartment building displays the same rectilinear façade patterns. The neighborhoods of Potomac Overlook and Glen Echo Heights tucked their glass-walled homes amid the natural landscape, capturing views and light. Many tour-goers thought the highlight was a visit to the Seymour Krieger House, designed by internationally recognized architect, Marcel Breuer. Breuer’s work on this house, delicately… Read more »

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I like to revisit posts I have done. Not long ago I wrote about putting a value on historic preservation. Three recent developments bring me back to the subject. First, the Historic Preservation Commission recently approved 39 applications for the county’s historic preservation tax credits. The 39 projects represent nearly $1.5 million in private investment in historic properties in communities across the county. This is a good thing. As discussed in the previous post, money spent on historic preservation projects demonstrates a strong multiplier effect, making investments in historic rehabilitation particularly beneficial for local economics, jobs and businesses. The number of tax credit projects also bears note. The 39 projects represent perhaps a quarter, or less, of the projects that… Read more »

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for an idea who’s time has come. Slate magainze recently posted an article about the efficiences of bus rapid transit, noting that its success lies in addressing some of the frustrating things about riding the bus–getting stuck in traffic, getting stuck behind fellow riders, getting stuck in the rain. But the author points out that dedicated lanes, proof-of-payment systems, and station infrastrcuture can combine to make bus travel efficient and appealing. While the Planning Board’s Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan doesn’t go into detail about how you’ll buy your bus ticket, it is an important step toward maximinzing the use of our existing roadways, establishing initial standards for routes and stations, and ensuring that everyone can travel around the… Read more »

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Depending on your media preferences, you may have heard about a new book by the Brookings Institute, The Metropolitan Revolution. In it, authors Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley postulate that with the Federal government in partisan gridlock and facing the costs of caring for an aging population, large infrastructure, education, and economic investments are taking place in America’s metropolitan areas through coalitions of local government, business, labor, philanthropic, and education leaders. In an NPR interview, Katz makes the point that as the economy changes so does American geography. From the primacy of port cities to swaths of industrial acreage, each economy has its spatial geography. Katz says the new digital economy that seeks interaction to create innovation is locating in… Read more »

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Roads, parking garages, even trails rarely have the urban glamour of Italian hill towns, grand plazas, or museums and symphony halls. For many planners and architects, they are the unfortunate necessities that make a place work and are often treated accordingly. But as this article in Better Cities and Towns shows, infrastructure can add drama to the urban profile and fun to daily life. What particulalry got me interested in the topic was looking at how we talk about parking garages. The only solution appears to be hiding them, screening them, making them look like something else. While some of these examples in Miami are truly extraordinary, more of them are replicable and through their design, location, and tenanting, add… Read more »

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  Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation released their annual list of the 11 most endangered places in the U.S. While none of them are in Montgomery County, the list includes two mid-century modern buildings–the Worldport Terminal at JFK Airport and the Houston Astrodome–a recogonition that recent history is also historic. In fact, The National Register of Historic Places, which sets out criteria for historic designation, generally recognizes that 50 years is a reasonable remove from which to conisder history. The register is alos looking for buildings associate with events or a noted person, those that can share information or reflect the work of a master, and those that exhibit unique construction or artistry. That age deadline and those criteria have… Read more »