Montgomery Modern

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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 Sand… 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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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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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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  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 »

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Montgomery County in the mid-century era experienced great change. Montgomery was the fourth fastest growing county in the nation. The population grew from less than 90,000 in 1946 to nearly 580,000 by 1974. Change also came in the pace of life, as cars and new highways enabled ever increasing speeds, but also in the scale of the perceived environment, as space exploration made the universe seem to be the limit. A new era called for new building forms, made possible with innovative technologies. By the early 1960s, architects were experimenting with a variety of roof forms. The zigzag roof of the Sligo Adventist Elementary School must have been a striking contrast to the traditional flat roof schools that had been… Read more »