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County, State Experts: API Building Should Be Considered for Historic Designation

by Karen Goff May 26, 2016 at 2:45 pm 36 Comments

Front of API Building

To some, the former American Press Institute headquarters on Sunrise Valley Drive is a vacant office building on a nice wooded lot. To others, it is a shining example of Mid-Century modernism and should possibly be included in the National Register of Historic Places.

Fairfax County and Commonwealth of Virginia Architecture experts have written to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova asking for a last-minute reconsideration of Sekas Homes’ rezoning application for the property.

Sekas Homes application will go before the Fairfax County Planning Commission Thursday night.

Sekas is looking to rezone the 4.6-acres of land from industrial to residential in order to build 34 townhouses and 10 condominiums at 11690 Sunrise Valley Dr. A county staff report recommends approval of the application.

The Brutalist-style building, designed by noted architect Marcel Breuer housed the API from 1974 until API merged with the Newspaper Association of America in 2012. The building has been vacant since.

In Sekas’ application, it said there were no known heritage resources on the land.

That’s where the architectural experts differ.

“The ARB requests that the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors request and review adaptive reuse studies to answer some fundamental questions about the building’s feasibility of adaptive reuse, so that informed decisions can be made based on professional analysis,” Fairfax County Architectural Review Board Chair Jason D. Sutphin wrote following a meeting on the subject Tuesday.

“Further evaluation of resources found to be potentially eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places should be further evaluated, and if such resources are found to be eligible, mitigation measures should be developed,” he said.

Sutphin says the ARB needs to look “at resources throughout the Reston community and that there may be potential historic overlay districts (HOD) in addition to the established HOD at Lake Anne Village Center.”

A state historian agrees.

“It is our opinion that the API building reaches the level of exceptional importance as an outstanding example of Brutalist architecture as designed by internationally known architect Marcel Breuer,” David Edwards of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources wrote to Bulova.

“Breuer’s career spans several decades and his portfolio includes such noted buildings as the Breuer House in New Canaan, Ct.; UNESCO Headquarters in Paris; and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, just to name a few. The API Building is equally significant at state and local levels, and, as our research indicates, the only Breuer building in Virginia.”

“If the API Building were to be demolished, the community and the state would lose the work of a master architect, Edwards’ letter continues. “Additionally, and maybe even more importantly, Reston would lose a building that is part of the community’s distinctive architectural history.”

Edwards recommends the building be renovated for office space or repurposed for residential use. He also says the building has potential for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • Greg

    Worst idea ever.

    • RunDMC

      Yeah like… it’s cool and all… but it’s in the woods. It’s been empty for however long because no one wants to rent it out. So what do we do with it? Just leave it in the woods, empty, so we can point to it and go “Look! A shining example of brutalist architecture!”

      There’s preservation that makes sense (wetlands, downtown Asheville NC- which they wanted to turn into a shopping mall at one point, hair from your kid’s first haircut) and I’m absolutely not advocating a “Raize it all and build a parking lot!” mentality (which seems to be the case in most of Fairfax county) but… yeah. Tear it down.

    • Breuer Bruhaha

      Ugly is in the eye of the beholder…

      This building is very interesting and unique, and given that it is the only Breuer building in Reston it is worth of preservation. It is also part of Reston’s architectural heritage. If Reston tears everything down and builds up more of the same unimaginative high rises as Tyson’s we lose some of what makes Reston unique.

      The buildings adjacent (Reston heights) are incredibly ugly IMHO.

      • North Restonian

        It’s the only one in the state.

        • Greg

          Thankfully!

      • Greg

        They buy it and do something remarkable with it.

  • name

    Why even have a comments section on this site if the moderator is just going to delete anything that is against her agenda?

    • Karen Goff

      I suggest you read our rules. Again.

      • meh

        We have, we just point out how it goes. You don’t like something – you delete it. No discussion, no debate, just delete. Maybe we can talk about the 7-11?

        • Karen Goff

          Bye

        • Karen Goff

          No one is preventing you from talking about the 7-eleven. I am preventing you from saying racist things that violate our terms of service. Also, this is a private business. You debate and discuss under my rules. Learn it. Know it.

          • RoadApples

            Curious ?:
            Is it ‘(OUR)terms of service ‘ or is it
            ‘under(MY)rules’ so yourlemmings ‘can learn and
            know it’

      • BuildTheWall

        And why do you lock Ken Plum threads? Is it because you’re carrying his water? Trying to provide cover for your leftist friend? What will you do when Trump wins the presidency?

        • Karen Goff

          Because there is a core group of commenter who repeatedly call him names. Totally against our rules. You can dislike his ideas, but be respectful. I am tired of explaining this to you.

          • TheRealODB

            “Mr. Plum, what about the “frequent concern I get from constituents” regarding [redacted], [redacted], and [redacted]? #Never[redacted]”…. better?

          • TheRealODB

            And I never called him any names, for the record.

          • Mike M

            Did he complain?
            I don’t call him names.

    • WhoIsJohnGalt

      Just wait. If too many people post a native she doesn’t like, the whole thread is locked.

  • Paul

    The Master Architect’s building is empty….it’s a great example of a structure built for a client that went out of business and is beyond its usefulness. While it may be “…an outstanding example of Brutalist architecture as designed by internationally known architect Marcel Breuer” it is simply a cast in place concrete structure that no longer serves it’s design purpose. No one wants to occupy it. No one wants to move in.

  • Restontimes

    I hope sound reasoning, collaboration, and respect prevail on this matter. Personal tastes aside, this is an architectural masterpiece. It is rare, and given the opportunity should be registered with the National Registry. The possibilities of repurposing and developing the areas around it would be one suggestion.

  • The Feds are wrestling with the same issue for the FBI building – another Brutalist structure. I’ve seen the Sekas plan and liked it compared to some of these large, traffic-inducing mixed-use projects or the tallest building in Reston which have been approved.

    • North Restonian

      Comparing the FBI building to the API building is poppucock. The API building was built in harmony with its environment. The FBI building was created to defy it. The FBI building was meant to intimidate. The API building was meant to enlighten. The only commonality is concrete.

    • Manado Jones

      It is not easy to design a good building. It is even harder to design a great building. Marcel Breuer accomplished that in the API Building. Now Sekas Homes wants to squeeze in 34 ugly townhouses and a few condominiums. . I almost feel sorry for the poor slob who was charged with the design of the townhouses which will lead to the demolition of Breuer’s masterpiece.

  • How
    about the International Center as it a more relevant historic building. And
    historic may mean more than one life time. (A first child is not historic.
    Not even Tom Jefferson’s first child is not historic). So many of these are
    1970s contemporary structures and they are all over the country and only here
    is anyone willing to declare them as “historic…” Declaring this
    that and the other historic is just another way of trying to stop evolution
    into the 22nd Century.

  • Annie

    In addition to being an architectural structure of potential importance, the building marks the place of significant media history. If the journalism industry weren’t in economic decline, the media community should/could seriously consider making it “The Other Newseum.”

    • Greg

      But it hasn’t since it abandoned the structure years ago. Certainly doesn’t appear likely to return to days gone by; however, we certainly disagree with your opinion that journalism is in decline.

      More to the point, No other industry, including those flush with cash and those in the architecture and construction businesses, have come forth with a purchase offer, have they?

    • EliteinReston

      Hang in there Annie. There’s no further proof needed that the journalism industry is in decline than the fact that the American Newspaper Publisher’s Association, now the Newspaper Association of America, abandoned its building next to API in 1997 to move to smaller space at Tysons Corner. NAA no longer needed that much space or employees as the industry began its decline concurrent with the rise in the internet. API was another casualty of the same decline. It’s so frustrating that folks don’t get the depth of the industry decline. They don’t realize one of the reasons sites like Reston Now exist is because money-losing news organizations like the Washington Post have pulled back drastically on local news coverage. We need to support Karen, not tear her down in comments. We wouldn’t know what is going on in our community if it wasn’t for her.

  • John Farrell

    Mssr. Sutphin and Edwards have had 4 years to find an adaptive reuse for this building.

    And they have come up with “.”

    Let them raise the money to buy it. Not confiscate it through historic designation.

  • Arielle in NoVA

    A recent book on Brutalist architecture just came up in my Atlast Obscura newsfeed.

    http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/starkly-beautiful-brutalist-buildings-photographed-in-black-and-white

  • Devorah Brehony

    Not a fan of Brutalism. I find the aesthetic elements lacking, and the overall form to be cold, inhospitable, and brash. Just because something is old or rare, doesn’t give it any intrinsic value. Everyone will have a different opinion, but I would be in favour of demolishing this concrete monstrosity, and building just about anything else anyone could think of….

    • Manado Jones

      You may not appreciate “Brutalist Architecture. I certainly do not appreciate the townhouse development Sekas has planned for the site. It does not fit and its construction has the potential to endanger the whole community.

      • Greg

        “[P]otential to endanger the whole community”?

        Care to elaborate on this potential?

        • Manado Jones

          The realtor would like us to believe that they have not been able to find a buyer for the API building. Could it have something to do with the gas pipeline easement that cuts across the site and takes up more than half of the property, and cannot be built on.

          This gas pipeline easement also cuts through Indian

          Ridge Road, off Sunrise Valley Drive across from the API building. A few years ago the residents on Indian Ridge Road were notified that a lot of trees had to be removed around the children’s playground, which is located above the gas pipeline line easement, because the gas company was worried that the roots of the trees might damage the pipeline. We were all devastated to lose these beautiful trees.

          Breuer’s design works well within limits of the site. Why do they want to squeeze in a bunch of ugly townhouses. Buildings right and left of the API building are multistory buildings. It would be a lot smarter to follow the footprint of Breuer’s building and stay away from the gas pipe line easement.

          This is a very dangerous proposition. Running heavy construction machinery and storing material above the gas line easement to build this unattractive development may not be so healthy for an aging pipeline, especially a gas pipeline.

          DON’T DO IT.

          • Greg

            Too late; it’s a done deal. Further, the property was not for sale and no Realtors were involved.

            Hopefully the pipelines’ owners (there are four pipelines there including petroleum pipelines) will be monitoring the construction and use this redevelopment to make any necessary repairs thereto.

            Also, the pipelines cross the toll road where the Metro is built and being extended — we all know how reckless and terrible Metro is, and, so far, nothing has blown up.

          • Manado Jones

            So far nothing has blown up. So far!

          • Manado Jones

            Have you ever even seen the property? There is a large realtor for sale sign on the property. The realtor spoke during the hearing that he could not find buyers for the property.

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