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Zoning codes literally shape our communities, governing the spacing of driveways, the number of spaces in parking lots, the heights of buildings, the placements of sidewalks, and the size of blocks along with the activities (or “uses”) allowed in each neighborhood. These codes determine whether we will live in a compact, walkable community or in a place where an automobile is needed to get anywhere.   Some codes have been found that date back thousands of years. Many European cities have been continuously coded since the 11th or 12th century, contributing to the character that makes these cities appealing today. These rules were created to govern the relationship between what gets built on private property and the public spaces around… Read more »

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David Frey’s “Mad About Modern” in the new issue of Bethesda Magazine highlights mid-century modern design in Montgomery County, featuring modernist tract houses in Rockville, Wheaton and Bethesda. Three residences in the article are in Montgomery Modern tours—past and future!   Carderock Springs house (1963) Owners: Jonas Carnemark and Wendy Ann Larson National Register Historic District Architect: Keyes Lethbridge & Condon Photos of Carnemark-Larson House, from our 2013 Montgomery Modern Bus Tour   Hammond Wood House (1950) Owner: Michael Cook Architect: Charles M. Goodman Photos from our 2014 Montgomery Modern Bike Tour   Oak Spring House (1966) Owners: Mike Lecy and Kit Yeoh Architect: Deigert & Yerkes This house will be included in our tour of Oak Spring for this… Read more »

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“If you design communities for automobiles, you get more automobiles. If you design them for people, you get walkable, livable communities.” Parris Glendening – Former Governor of Maryland “Our streets and squares make up what we call the public realm, which is the physical manifestation of the common good. When you degrade the public realm, the common good suffers.” James Howard Kunstler – Writer, Urbanist   Studies throughout the country have drawn the same conclusions regarding the relationship between house and garage. Townhouses with garages placed inconspicuously at the rear of the property create better neighborhoods and generate greater economic value than townhouses with garages fronting the street.   Look at the townhouses in our region built over the past… Read more »

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Sometimes a parking lot lies between you and your heart’s desire – reaching the café to buy a frappucino, enjoying a quiet moment along a shaded stream, dropping by your favorite lunch spot.  Or perhaps the car-choked lot is the gateway to your workplace. Parking lots are rarely places of delight and walking through one often feels like being trapped in a nasty computer game. Well, a couple of us who regularly advocate for squeezing every possible bit of walkability into communities decided to get our own house in order. Witness the bright new path through our parking lot at the Planning Department’s headquarters in Silver Spring. This walkway connects the Woodside Park neighborhood to the north with Downtown Silver… Read more »

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The Planning Department has launched its second annual Design Excellence Award competition. We are looking for exceptional work in architecture, landscape architecture and urban design that has been completed in Montgomery County over the past decade.  The goal of the awards program is to promote outstanding design that improves the quality of the built environment in our county. By recognizing this work, the bar will continue to be set higher to further enhance the quality of community at all scales of development, from our urban centers to our rural reserves. Award submissions are now being accepted through the Montgomery County Planning Department webpage through July 21, 2016. To enter, go to: www.montgomeryplanning.org/design/designaward2016.shtm This year’s awards competition jury features highly regarded… Read more »

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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 »