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John Joseph Earley was a local artisan who was an innovator of colorful concrete mosaic and a pioneer in prefabricated concrete construction. Earley implemented his earliest projects in Montgomery County and the Washington, DC region before this master craftsman’s work gained nationwide interest. [Note: see below for information about a tour of two of Earley’s DC projects.]     John J. Earley designed demonstration houses in Silver Spring made of his polychrome precast concrete panels. John J. Earley’s Polychrome Houses (1934–35), at Sutherland Drive and Colesville Road, Silver Spring have been called the birthplace of precast architectural concrete. This collection of five modernist houses with brilliant exterior polychrome walls was a prototype project for John Joseph Earley’s prefabricated concrete construction…. Read more »

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The Montgomery Planning Department sponsored a lecture by Boston architect Rodolfo Machado on May 25 at the Silver Spring Civic Building. Machado and his firm Machado Silvetti designed the civic building and the Planning Department honored them in October 2015 with the first annual Design Excellence Award for this remarkable project. Experiencing the Silver Spring building with the architect on site and learning more about his design made the event even more special.     Machado creates buildings that are positively urban and of their place. Although he truly loves architecture, the Argentine-turned-American loves even more the places his architecture creates. A smile was on his face as he explained how civic buildings are about social interaction and the everyday… Read more »

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Welcome to the re-introduction of the Montgomery County Planning Department Blog, now called The Third Place.     In planning, the third place is the social realm separate from the home and workplace. It provides an inclusive forum for the dialogue and debate crucial for civic engagement and community building. This blog will pursue many of the principles, ideas and examples behind the Montgomery County Planning Department’s programs and initiatives. It is hoped that it will foster greater engagement with all our communities and residents. We welcome your ideas and feedback.     Many national surveys indicate that Montgomery County is one of the highest educated and wealthiest counties in the country. We cherish our natural assets and work to… Read more »

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Design Excellence is about urbanism! This does not mean turning Montgomery County into an expansion of Downtown Bethesda. It is more about raising the quality of life through the creation of better, more interconnected places to live.   Montgomery County has several great historic examples of urbanism, including Norfolk Avenue in Bethesda or East Diamond Avenue in Gaithersburg at the urban scale; Brookville Road and Taylor Street in Chevy Chase and Ridgewood Avenue in Bethesda at the suburban scale; and Grove Avenue in Washington Grove at the rural scale.     Peter Calthorpe, one of the founders of the Congress for New Urbanism and author of the book Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change describes urbanism as: “I define… Read more »

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Exuberant roof forms are a hallmark of mid-century modern architecture. In contrast to the simple gable roofs of traditional design, modernist architects employed a wide variety of inventive forms. The zig-zag roof of Sligo Elementary School was featured in a previous Montgomery Modern posting.   The soaring rooftop of the National Library of Medicine is a hyperbolic paraboloid concrete shell, designed by O’Connor & Kilham of New York. This distinctive feature represents concerns of the Atomic Age—in the event of a nuclear bomb blast, the centralized opening was intended to provide for pressure release.     The folded roof feature at Green Acres School provides visual interest and brings light into the central multi-purpose room.   In the hands of… Read more »

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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 »