Carol Ann Riordan was the last director of the American Press Institute at its Reston headquarters. Cheryl Terio-Simon was the wife of the founder of Reston. Ralph P. Youngren, an architect, studied under Marcel Breuer at the Harvard Graduate School.
America is losing its architectural heritage, one building at a time.
Wrecking crews are pulling the final curtain on grand old theaters. Beloved churches, spiritual centers for generations of families, are being razed. Queen Anne-style homes, unapologetically ornate, are being demolished.
With each, a community loses a chapter of its history. Once a building is gone, it’s gone.
Virginia is rich with Colonial and Civil War historic sites. More recent architectural wonders, such as Eero Saarinen’s Dulles International Airport and Lake Anne Village Center in Reston, are no less significant.
A historically and architecturally significant building in Reston since 1974 is under the threat of demolition: the American Press Institute building, designed by internationally acclaimed architect Marcel Breuer.
After API merged with the Newspaper Association of America in 2012, NAA sold the building to a property management company. The building since has been empty.
On Tuesday, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on a developer’s rezoning application for the site. If approved, the building will be razed and replaced by townhouses and condominiums. Last month, the Fairfax County Planning Commission recommended the application be denied.
Why should the API building be spared from demolition? Breuer, a master of Modernism, designed the third Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development building in the District, among others.
Most of Breuer’s projects were far larger than the 25,000-square-foot API building. But he was intrigued that the building’s purpose would focus on journalism training and would be in a planned community.
This was no ordinary “job”: It was a shared vision and a promise forged by Breuer, API and Reston in its early years.
The building nestles on a gentle slope, integrating with the landscape and leveraging its surroundings. Natural light creates an ever-changing show throughout the day. Breuer’s brutalist design commands attention: from the interior and exterior pre-cast concrete panels and high ceilings to his signature tubular steel chairs.
People who attended seminars at the building had effusive praise for it, the only Breuer building in Virginia:
“A work of art.”
“Surrounded by trees as though it were gift-wrapped by Mother Nature.”
“A building that represents the very best of what Reston was designed to offer.”
Residents, architects, historians and preservationists — and nearly 1,500 petition signers agree: The building should be saved and reused.
The Fairfax County Architectural Review Board agrees: It passed a motion, sent to county officials, urgently pleading that the county “consider further historical and architectural evaluation and specific heritage resource significance of the American Press Institute building, and consider appropriate land usage that could lead to the preservation and/or adaptive reuse of the building.”
The API building is not listed on the county’s Inventory of Historic Sites. However, the ARB notes that “The lack of a comprehensive heritage resources inventory within the designated Transit Station Areas along the Silver Line corridor areas is inconsistent with the County’s stated objectives for the District,” a disservice to county residents and developers.
David Edwards, architectural historian for Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources, encourages the building’s preservation: “If the API building were to be demolished, the community and the state would lose the work of a master architect. Additionally, and maybe more importantly, Reston would lose a building that is part of its community’s distinctive architectural history” found nowhere else in the state.
The American Press Institute building is part of Reston’s rich tapestry. Given the building’s extraordinary history and architecture, Fairfax County must welcome proposals for adaptive reuse.
Great buildings should be celebrated and treasured. Communities have the responsibility and privilege of serving as their stewards. Breuer’s American Press Institute building deserves a second life, not a demolition permit.