Sprucing up Silver Line concrete in Tysons is goal for brainstormers who met Wednesday


One of the teams works on a design plan. Fairfax County officials teamed with architects and designers in Vienna, Va., on Wednesday to brainstorm about ways to make the silver isle track trellises more appealing. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Some day, if any of the ideas tossed around Wednesday inside the Sheraton Hotel in Tysons Corner come to pass, the gray concrete pillars beneath the new Silver Line tracks will be marvels attracting tourists from around the world.

That may be hard to imagine now, given that many people find the gargantuan pillars along routes 7 and 123 visually revolting.

But in hopes of steering the aesthetics of the neighborhood undergoing a dramatic transformation in that direction, Fairfax County officials convened about 25 architects, designers and marketing experts to brainstorm ideas for the space beneath the tracks that could be implemented as the area becomes more pedestrian friendly.

What they came up with for the four Silver Line stations that run through Tysons are an urban planner’s dream: sustainable gardens, fiber optic light canopies and even a giant pyramid sculpture made from recycled tires towering over the tracks.

“This needs to go in Old Town Tysons, once someone figures out where that is,” said landscape architect Dennis Carmichael, joking about a section his team dreamed up for the McLean station that would include the tire sculpture, benches made from recycled truck gates and a nostalgic “sign-henge” garden made from the signs of businesses that once dominated the area.

Sharon Bulova, chairwoman of the county’s Board of Supervisors, convened the all-day session after developers behind the multimillion-dollar projects underway in Tysons complained about the concrete pillars and bolstered her own misgivings about their appearance.

The models developed Tuesday will serve as a foundation for more discussion about the pillars, including how to fund the plans, county officials said.

Initially, Bulova said, she thought the solution would be to paint the structures, an idea that officials with Metrorail and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority say could damage their integrity or lead to costly maintenance.

But after the architects and designers toured the areas and developed models to show Bulova, the answer seemed to be to bring people’s attention to what lies beneath the tracks.

“I like the honesty of the concrete,” said architect Rohit Anand, whom Bulova asked to help direct the effort. “We can use it as a background.”

Four teams worked to develop some general ideas, based on the tour and pictures of spaces around the world with similar makeups — such as the vibrant marketplace beneath Mexico City’s highways or the new High Line park overlooking a once-blighted portion of New York City.

The groups agreed that the area should be connected through a winding pathway beneath the tracks, accessible to pedestrians or cyclists.

They also sought to create spaces for people to sit beneath the pillars — on benches, in gardens or next to giant sculptures or screens meant to muffle the rush of traffic that will likely still be part of the area.

Borrowing from Washington, one team suggested lowering Route 7, so cars would pass beneath areas where people walk.

What most agreed on was that the area should excite passengers arriving by train.

“If you’re passing through these channels to get to wherever you need to go, the ground plain really needs to be vibrant,” said architect Elliot Rhodeside. He presented a plan that included using chicken wire for decorative purposes, illuminating the Silver Line pedestrian bridges with different colors during the night and using old Metrorail cars for pop-up businesses and art galleries.

While several architects arrived with an eye on the possibility of winning a contract to help carry out such plans, others said they simply wanted a voice in improving what they called an eyesore in an otherwise dramatically improved neighborhood.

Jasna Bijelic’s architectural firm is based in Tysons, which she said has allowed her to witness the area’s changes firsthand.

From the start, she strongly disliked the concrete pillars, she said.

“It was a visual violation, an aggression on my life,” Bijelic said, after completing a portion of her model that included 10-foot-high green screens that blocked some of the view for people sitting beneath the tracks.

“I actually started using alternative routes not to see it,” she said. “So, I’m happy to help in any way.”

Antonio covers government, politics and other regional issues in Fairfax County. He worked in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago before joining the Post in September of 2013.
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