Planning Commission Will Tour API Building Before Deciding Future

Front of API BuildingThe Fairfax County Planning Commission will wait until next month before deciding what the future holds for the former American Press Institute Building on Sunrise Valley Drive.

The building, designed by noted architect Marcel Breuer, is an example of Brutalist design that should be given historical designation, some say. Others are of the opinion that it is an office building that has been sitting empty for more than four years and is ripe for redevelopment.

Sekas Homes 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.

A public hearing was held earlier this month. Planning commission members will tour the building on June 2 and on June 16 will either recommend or deny the plan for approval.

“I agree with the deferral,” said Ellen Hurley, the Braddock District’s Planning Commission member. “I could not vote for approval until building has undergone a determination of eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.”

Hurley said the 1974 building has not been examined, in part, because it is not yet 50 years old.

“But many sites that are listed across the country are listed or eligible to be listed in the NRHP that are not 50 years old,” she added. “There is enough scholarly research on Breuer and Brutalism to be able to make that determination at this time.”

Hurley also said that there may be “a determination of significance in context of Reston or Virginia.”

“I understand that many do not like Brutalism, but this architecture is significant in the narrative to american architecture. We may not all like this particular style but when it is gone, it’s gone.”

The building, which housed the API from 1974 until 2012, is the only Breuer building in Virginia. Breuer died in 1981. Among some of his famous works: Atlanta’s Central Library; the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City; and buildings at Yale University, New York University, St. John’s University and Vassar College, among many others.

Hunter Mill rep Frank de le Fe reminded the planning commission that “we don’t make decisions based on the likes and dislikes of people; we make recommendations based on the [Fairfax County] comprehensive plan.”

Others on the commission pointed out that a historical review should have occurred much earlier in the process.

Earlier this month, Fairfax County and Commonwealth of Virginia Architecture experts wrote to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova asking for a last-minute reconsideration the of Sekas Homes’ rezoning application.

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

“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,” wrote Fairfax County Architectural Review Board Chair Jason D. Sutphin.

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.

Edwards recommends the building be renovated for office space or repurposed for residential use.

There is also support for saving the building from many former API members and employees.

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