Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Make the old Marcel Breuer-designed API building the new Reston Regional Library.

Events are moving quickly on whether to save the old API building designed by Marcel Breuer--the only Breuer-designed building in Virginia--or to tear it down for massive residential redevelopment.   It is, in fact, one of the few buildings in Reston that is consistent with Bob Simon's vision for encouraging architectural excellence in our community.

Last week, members of the Fairfax County Planning Commission toured the building and a week from today (June 16) the Commission will decide whether to recommend tearing it down as recommended by the Planning Staff or preserve it as an historic site.  The County's Architectural Review Board, on the other hand, is arguing for its preservation.

Opponents of redeveloping the API building site are circulating a petition to preserve it because of its architectural  significance.  Here is the text of that petition:

The American Press Institute (API) building in Reston, VA, is under the threat of demolition.
It is the only building in Virginia by the internationally acclaimed architect Marcel Breuer, “a master of Modernism” who also designed the Whitney Museum of American Art (now the Met Breuer), UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, and the HUD building in Washington, D.C.
For nearly 38 years, tens of thousands of news media executives — representing a “Who’s Who in Journalism” — attended leadership seminars in the nonprofit’s Breuer-designed headquarters in Reston.
  • The API building is historically and architecturally significant.
  • It is a crucial chapter in Reston’s rich history.
  • It should have a second life instead of being torn down.
That’s why we’re asking you to sign this petition to save the API building.
On June 16, the Fairfax County Planning Commission will make a final decision on a local developer’s application for rezoning the property from business to residential and a demolition permit.
Please sign this petition by Monday, June 13, so that we can submit all of the signatures to the Planning Commission in advance of the June 16 meeting.
If the commission and, soon after, the Board of Supervisors approves this plan, the building will be razed so that single- and multi-family housing can be built on the site.
A growing coalition — local and nationwide — questions this plan given what’s at stake, including:
  • Fairfax County Architectural Review Board (ARB)
  • Fairfax County History Commission
  • Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Historic Resources
  • Reston and other Fairfax County residents
  • Community leaders
  • Architects, historians and preservationists
  • Journalists and other news media executives across North America who attended API programs
  • Former API staff members
  • Those who believe that architectural treasures should be preserved.
During a May 24 special meeting, the Fairfax County ARB passed a motion and sent it with a letter to county officials “urgently” pleading that:
“The Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and County agencies 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 … so that informed decisions can be made based on professional analysis.”
This was not the first time the ARB contacted county officials about the API building. In a letter (Oct. 5, 2015), the ARB said that it "believes that the property has a reasonable potential for meeting the criteria for listing on the Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places.”
Furthermore, the ARB recommended that the Board and Commission "take action to suspend the demolition permit … and to consider the specific heritage resource significance of the API site in particular in regard to the pending rezoning application.”

In a letter (Nov. 6, 2015) to county officials, the Fairfax History Commission “unanimously” concurred with the ARB’s letter.
On May 17, David Edwards, Architectural Historian for the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Historic Resources, wrote:
"It is our opinion that the API building reaches the level of exceptional importance … and strongly encourages its 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.”
Despite these grave concerns, the Fairfax County Planning and Zoning staff has recommended to the Fairfax Planning Commission its approval of the rezoning application and demolition of the building.
PLEASE JOIN US in stopping the demolition of the American Press Institute building by signing this petition.
Your signature is all the more important because saving the Breuer building may mean finding a new home for Reston Regional Library, a bond referendum-approved task that has been hanging in limbo for a decade.  Here is what the Fairfax Library Advocates have to say about the building and its use as our regional library:
Fairfax County's Architectural Review Board has asked that the county reconsider bulldozing the American Press Institute (API) building on Sunrise Valley Drive in Reston.  They believe the building, designed by Hungarian-born architect Marcel Breuer, has historic architectural significance and should not be taken down and replaced with townhouses.  API is the only building in Virginia designed by Breuer. 

This building at 48,000 sq feet is large enough to house a regional library.  It's in an excellent location.  The $10 million library bond approved by voters is enough to purchase and renovate the building.  Current development plans for the library parcel in Town Center North and for the API site on Sunrise Valley Drive need to be paused to consider an adaptive reuse of the API building as a public library.

Please write the Planning Commissioners and the Board of Supervisors as soon as possible to ask that this option be considered. 
Reston 20/20 strongly encourages all Restonians to sign the API building preservation petition.  Preserving and repurposing the Breuer-designed building as our regional library represents a unique opportunity to solve two problems with one solution that has a chance of not costing Reston or county residents more than has already been dedicated to that purpose.  Alternatively, the architecturally striking building could be torn down and replaced with townhomes while we all paid for a new regional library. 

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