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This sleek blue building, constructed in 1963, is another mid-century modern gem in downtown Silver Spring. Built three years after the American National Bank Building, the Operations Research Institute building was designed by prolific local architect Ted Englehardt. Previously we blogged about Englehardt’s Weller’s Dry Cleaning. For the Operations Research Institute, Englehardt designed an International Style office building with beautiful turquoise spandrel panels made of porcelain enamel. Developer Carl M. Freeman moved his offices here in 1964. The firm occupied the first and part of the second floors. Freeman, who pioneered the modernist garden apartment in the DC area, was at this time one of the top 12 builders in the country. Some part of the ground floor was originally… Read more »

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Who doesn’t love trees? As we’ve learned, shoppers perusing downtown shops for the latest bargains are among the tree lovers. That’s why property owners in the Silver Spring and Wheaton Central Business Districts should take advantage of the Planning Department’s new program offering free trees. Last month, the Department unveiled Shades of Green, a pilot program that provides trees of choice to qualifying property owners, plants them, and ensures care and maintenance for two years. That’s quite a deal. Download our online maps for details on who qualifies – CBD property owners and property owners in Montgomery Hills – as well as tree species on offer. Learn more about how the Shades of Green program works and why we are… Read more »

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About fifty people attended an open house at the Planning Department last weekend. Of all the intelligent questions and interesting conversations I had with people who stopped at the historic preservation station, my favorite was with an elementary school-aged girl who came in with her mom and younger brother. Our conversation went something like this. I asked if the girl if knew what historic preservation was. She shrugged. I pointed to a display with photos of some old buildings, including a house in Takoma Park that had been abandoned and condemned but has recently been rehabilitated, sold, and is again lived in. She offered that preservation was about saving old buildings. Then I asked if she knew why historic preservation… Read more »

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This post is not specifically about Montgomery County, but it’s about a great film I recently saw that really sets modernism in context. It’s Visual Acoustics, the documentary of a man helped bring modern American design into the forefront: architectural photographer Julius Shulman (1910-2009). Through his spectacular photos, it is said that Shulman defined the way we look at modernism. His photos of works of Richard Neutra, Frank Lloyd Wright, and other modernist designers great and small appeared in architectural journals and books throughout this era. Shulman’s work was not always credited at the time. My copy of Leonardo Benevolo’s History of Modern Architecture bears witness to this, with great photos of Neutra houses which are not credited (!) but… Read more »

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The District’s plan for eco-friendly redevelopment in Southwest Washington is a big one, but M-NCPPC environmental planner Tina Schneider points out that one of the plan’s small elements could apply in Montgomery County. Alternating tree panels with stormwater panels is a way to slow and filter run-off while enhancing streetscape. The County requires stormwater management treatment, but it’s often easiest to use methods that have already recieved approval than to try something new. And, let’s admit it, there’s a lot of competition for the limited right-of way space. We want to make room for bicycles, streetscaped sidewalks, and–oh yeah–cars. It can also be a challenge to thread a new drainage path among existing underground infrastructure. But other places have managed it–you can… Read more »

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If you live or work in Montgomery County, you’ve probably heard about the ambitious plans to build Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) here. You can learn more about the proposal at a panel discussion in Silver Spring this Wednesday. Bus Rapid Transit is a type of transit using buses, which can include many of the aspects normally associated with light rail. Attributes like reserved lanes, all-door boarding, traffic signal priority, and off-board fare collection speed up buses, and allow transit riders to get where they’re going faster. The county has announced plans to build as much as 160 miles worth of BRT in Montgomery, to bring quick transit to as many residents as possible. The Coalition for Smarter Growth is organizing… Read more »

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And I hardly know what to make of this. Did someone redefine cool or cities or  Bethesda? And as one commenter on Bethesda Patch noted, Baltimore ranked 14, just beating Bethesda at 17. Cool is subjective, and (she says snarkily) is the measure of cool the number of  hipster pickle makers per loft? By the way, Brooklyn, which seems to be the epicenter of cool hipster pickle-makers, did not make the list. Though I suppose it was subsumed into the NYC-White Plains-Wayne (NJ) census mess. And moving on from snark to bureaucratic nerdiness, Bethesda is not a city or even a town. It’s an unicorporated place that can leap perceptual boundaries whenever a realtor needs to gin up another suburban… Read more »

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We grew up as planners learning that shopping malls sapped downtown of its energy–whether it was small town retailers wiped out by the mall just over the county line or urban retail boulevards gutted of life as suburbanites left the city to follow jobs and the shopping followed them. Over time, downtowns began to reimage themselves as malls. Beginning in 1980, The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street program was based on that very premise, organizing disparate retailers to work together on signage, opening hours, seasonal sales, and marketing. Federal Realty took it one step further, simply buying up retail streets in places like Westport, Connecticut and Bethesda, Maryland to create a single, curated retail environment from brick pavers… Read more »

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The Yards Park has already won a list of awards, but I’ve just discovered it. I can see why it’s won awards–there are so many things I love about it–the variety of spaces, the classic Holly Whyte bits of urbanism (movable chairs, touchable water, something to eat, people to watch), and its connections, running from Diamond Teague Park at National’s Stadium and through the Navy Yard, with a few bikeshare docks along the way.          

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Suburbs have always been an indicator of economic status. If you lived in them, you were wealthy enough to take on a mortgage, maintain a house and yard, and eventually own and maintain one or even two cars. At some point, that shifted. Living in the city and maintaining a middle class lifestyle took an upper class income. Limited attractive neighborhoods and buildings cost a premium. And if local schools and services were not up to par you needed to pay tuition and fees. Now, according to Christopher Leinberger and Mariela Alfonzo in the New York Times, a larger number of city neighborhoods are outstripping the suburbs in desirability and thus in per square foot value. Their recent report finds that walkable places… Read more »