To some, it is an inspired blend of arches and columns, a new Fairfax County office building that crowns Virginia's glorious past and celebrates its future.

To others, it looks like a brick shopping bag, with handles.

"It's pretty spectacular," said Martha V. Pennino (D-Centreville), vice chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, "and I think it sets the tone of excellence for Tysons Corner development."

"People are going to disagree on whether or not the building's beautiful," said Howard Ball, a longtime McLean resident and civic activist. "I think it's pretty ugly, everything considered."

The building in question is a 17-story monument of limestone and pink brick, looming above car dealerships and department stores, travel agencies and pizza restaurants.

It's the first of three identical towers designed by architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee and planned as part of the JTL Tycon Towers complex being built by developer James T. Lewis at the intersection of the Capital Beltway and Rte. 7.

But even in this early stage of the Tycon Towers project, with only one skyscraper in the $250 million to $300 million project complete, the Tysons skyline is forever changed, and so is the character of this emerging metropolis 10 miles southwest of Washington.

Anne Morton, president of the 180-member McLean Business and Professional Association, was effusive in her praise of the new building, which is known as JTL Tycon Towers I. "It is going to attract business and industry to our wonderful town," she said.

"The more offices that come in, the more offices that are available, the more office supplies I'm going to sell," she added. Morton owns two Fairfax County office supply stores and heads the business education department at Langley High School, among other activities.

"I know it was designed by a famous architectural firm," said McLean resident Ball, "but I think the building is basically a bizarre design.

"It's boxy. It's fake. It has these dysfunctional pillars that run all the way from the ground floor to the top. It picks up the theme of the McDonald's arch, but not quite. I don't understand it, esthetically."

"I prefer more earth-hugging structures," said Fairfax Supervisor Nancy Falck (R-Dranesville).

Supervisor Pennino said she's thrilled that Fairfax finally has acquired some sophisticated architecture. "It was like before, if someone came from Europe to visit me, where did I take them to show them something of architectural beauty? We didn't have any.

"I used to say that what we had was a shoebox mentality -- it was either a horizontal shoebox or a vertical shoebox," she added. "Today, we've got structures of architectural beauty. Like, even our jail, from the outside, is architecturally pleasing."

"To put it bluntly, I like it," said James C. McKeever, head of the Fairfax County Council of the Arts and president of Metropolitan Permit Services Inc., a consulting firm that works with architects and engineers.

"I think the brick is very much Virginia, and I think it's very much in the spirit of the very solid and economically strong attitude and position of Northern Virginia, and Fairfax County in particular," he said.

JTL Tycon Towers I: It is developer Jim Lewis' baby, and he's proud of it. He hired the New York architectural office of John Burgee Architects With Philip Johnson after seeing them listed in a Fortune magazine roster of top architectural offices.

Lewis, who is also developing the $1 billion PortAmerica project in Prince George's County, was familiar with the firm's other designs, including the AT&T corporate headquarters in New York, the Republic Bank Center and Pennzoil Place in Houston, and PPG Place in Pittsburgh.

He also knew he had a strategic site -- high on a hill, overlooking a confluence of highways.

"I got to thinking that with a very superior site like that, I would try to do the absolute best I could with the architecture that would go on it, because so many people would see it on a daily basis," said Lewis, who is a director of the Fairfax County Council of the Arts.

Now that the first building is complete, Lewis says he's thrilled. The architecture speaks to him. It moves him. "It says to me that here you have a great architect, doing one of his better buildings, and adapting it extremely well to its environment, which is Fairfax County."

Burgee, who designed the building in concert with Johnson, is equally pleased at the way JTL Tycon Towers I turned out.

"We wanted to avoid the glassy box and we wanted to tie it in a little bit to the traditional elements of the area around there -- the arched tops and the free-standing columns," he said.

He said that if one skyscraper is good, the synergy created by two will be better. "And when the third one gets done -- then, boy! It will be the symbol of Tysons Corner."

Breaking ground for the second building depends on how fast the first building is leased, Lewis said.

The first tenant moved into Tycon Towers I last December, and so far 40 percent of the available office space in the building has been claimed by lawyers, real estate developers, communications groups and consultants willing to pay above-market rates of $24.50 to $28.50 per square foot, said Kenneth Born, the leasing agent. The building will generate $792,000 a year in tax revenue for the county, according to the county office of assessments.

So, the promotion continues, with a brochure that resembles a menu for a $100-a-plate restaurant, filled with glossy pages as thick as post cards.

It proclaims that JTL Tycon Towers is "available for discriminating tenants who understand the value of excellence."

"Thomas Jefferson would approve," it says.

According to a developer's representative who declined to be identified, the building is "upscale," aimed at attracting "high image" tenants who want to be in a "signature building -- a building that has an identity all its own, a building that makes a mark on the land, almost like a piece of art, a statue."

Its lobby walls are sheathed in blond oak imported from West Germany. The floors are of high-gloss marble -- a Negro Marquina from Spain, and a Staturao from Italy.

There will be an "upscale cafe" on the first floor, she said, and an "upscale sundries shop." This is a building that has no door knobs, only "lever-action door handles."

"They're a statement," the representative explained. "It's like, why do you wear a leather belt instead of a vinyl belt?"

Now that the building is complete, Burgee said he thought it would be fun -- playful -- to put a bust of Thomas Jefferson in one lobby niche, and a bust of developer Lewis in another.

Most people won't notice interior appointments, though; their view of JTL Tycon Towers I will be from the Beltway.

This building is smaller than originally proposed. But, it's still so large, at 722 feet high, that even from other roads and neighborhoods, one can catch glimpses of its pink brick, rising over the trees.

"It really does dominate the sky," said Peter Ancona, a former planning and zoning chairman with the McLean Citizens Association. "I can't imagine what the second one is going to do."