To design a new building at Tysons Corner is no piece of cake except, perhaps, along the curving wooded stretch of Westpark Drive (the part not visible from the main highways), where a lot can be done simply by staying low and paying attention to the trees.
Elsewhere, the context is so cacophonous that it is hard to tell where to pick up a clue as to what a new building should be--there are clustered row houses, high condo buildings, the huge shopping mall, remnants of older commercial strips, and all of those unimaginative new office buildings along the roads and hillsides.
One idea, if your building is along one of the main roads, is to play to the strip, to do a building that catches the glancing eye of the speeding motorist--bang! This is what the firm of Zinser and Dunn Associates obviously had in mind for the brand-new Tycon Court House project on Route 123, a huge black building (black aggregate surface, gray-tinted ribbon windows) with eye-catching white trim.
Actually, trim is not quite the word. To dramatize the entrance of this 400,000-square-foot horizontal building, the architects concocted an enormous white circular band, set into the facade but free-standing at the top, and added an emphatic white band along the rest of the facade. Actually, entrance isn't quite the word, either, as 99 percent of the people who visit Tycon will go in through the back door, where the cars park.
There's a lot wrong here--to say that the massive black-banded parking garage in the rear does not blend in with the nearby hillside town houses is putting it mildly--but the main thing, besides the oppressive size of the thing, is that it isn't even any fun. Even at 55 mph the big white circle can be read, fast, for what it is, a bumptious gimmick.
Architect Arthur Cotton Moore's new office building for GTE at 8229 Boone Blvd. is, at least, fun. Moore's building is a horizontal black box, too, but neither so big nor so obvious (being located a block off the main drag). Besides that, Moore bent the box in a graceful S-curve along its top three floors, and he gave his off-center entrance a bit of classical gas, fooling around kind of nicely with the notion of a columned portico. He introduces a bit of color, too, which is a clue other architects might pick up on.
Basically, though, neither of these new buildings offers any surcease from the general confusion. Maybe that's the sorry point. The best architecture in the Tysons area is the interior of Clyde's, the road house which, with its really loony mix of decorations, all beautifully done, most assuredly is right at home.