Greater Greater Washington

New skyscraper will raise the roof on White Flint

For most of the past 3 decades, the tallest skyscraper in Montgomery County has been Gaithersburg's 275 foot tall Washingtonian Tower. Earlier this year, Washingtonian Tower was eclipsed by the 289 foot tall North Bethesda Market. Now, developers in White Flint are proposing another, even taller tower.

Oh, and it's crazy-looking:


Proposed North Bethesda Market II. Image from JBG.

The proposed skyscraper is part of a massive mixed-use transit oriented development planned for across the street from White Flint Metro. Called North Bethesda Market II, the building will have 345 residential units and measure about 300 feet tall. While the residential tower will anchor the development, the plan as a whole also includes a 175,000 square foot office building and 115,000 square feet of retail space.

Putting skyscrapers in White Flint makes sense. White Flint is Montgomery County's version of Tysons Corner: a huge collection of dense but mostly suburban office buildings and residential high rises. With its Metro station, the area is as perfect a location for smart growth development as there could be in Montgomery County.

The project site plan shows that like the existing North Bethesda Market I, the North Bethesda Market II proposal is basically urban. The public spaces turn their back on Rockville Pike, which is unfortunate, but the urban design is still a big step up from existing conditions.


Proposed North Bethesda Market II. Image from JBG.

And then there's the architecture. The bold, modernist ziggurat is absolutely unlike anything else in our region. It is a shocking sculptural statement that succeeds in all the ways it is meant to. It's not the kind of architecture that would make a good city if repeated over 10,000 background buildings, but it will be an undeniable landmark - an icon to the city White Flint aspires to be.

I wouldn't want to see more than one of these, but I like it for what it is.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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this is awesome.

so glad we have a height ordinance in dc that pushes awesome development and tax dollars outside of the city!

by greg on Dec 6, 2011 12:12 pm • linkreport

It's not crazy looking. It is not-boring.

by Jasper on Dec 6, 2011 12:13 pm • linkreport

woohoo - build up not out!

by Sam on Dec 6, 2011 12:19 pm • linkreport

Love it. Though the two traditional sides are kind of a buzzkill.

by jag on Dec 6, 2011 12:23 pm • linkreport

I really don't care for the ziggurat building, but I appreciate it as a landmark.

It's more disappointing how this design addresses Rockville Pike. I found it really hard to even find the Pike on the rendering you show (it's behind the shorter glass building on the right). I understand that, as it's currently set up, the Pike doesn't really invite pedestrians (or nice pedestrian plazas), but I feel like there has to be some sort of connection between the road and the interior of the complex, so people can flow between them. Is that a little walkway I see underneath the building on the right? I can't tell.

by dan reed! on Dec 6, 2011 12:23 pm • linkreport

Reminds me of Montréal's Habitat 67.

by Craig on Dec 6, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

I wouldn't want to see something like this in DC, but it'll be a nice addition to the White Flint area. And give all those in this area seeking a NYC-style existence in Metro DC a place to move to ...

by Lance on Dec 6, 2011 12:26 pm • linkreport

yea i wouldn't want this in dc. i want more glass and concrete monoliths. long live brutalism!

by greg on Dec 6, 2011 12:28 pm • linkreport

How wonderful. Empty plazas and dead spaces with no entries on Rockville Pike.

. And give all those in this area seeking a NYC-style existence in Metro DC a place to move to ...

Lance, looking at the layout of the place, it's your dream building-- entirely car-focused, does not have any ground-level development along the streets, etc. It's perfect for you.

I assume you've never actually been to New York, so I'm going to let that pass.

by JustMe on Dec 6, 2011 12:37 pm • linkreport

Oh my God the view from that first rendering is hideous. I dig the 3D tessellation, and I suppose otherwise it defines the space around it rather well... but as a visual landmark, ew.

by Dave Murphy on Dec 6, 2011 12:41 pm • linkreport

According to the site plan, the residential tower faces Rockville Pike. But in the rendering mentioned by Dan Reed, it looks like the residential building is on Nicholson instead. That's interesting.

by Amber on Dec 6, 2011 12:47 pm • linkreport

It's awful. Completely awful.

by Birdie on Dec 6, 2011 12:50 pm • linkreport

Looks kind of interesting. It beats the strip mall sitting there right now.

by Fitz on Dec 6, 2011 12:52 pm • linkreport

Hideous building, though good concept of building up near Metro. Instead of soaring fo rthe clouds like a good art deco building would, this lumpy pile looks as short as possible for the tallest building in the county. It will be totally outdated in 10 years. Would prefer to see something more traditional, especially so as to not alarm suburbanites with density = weird architecture.

by MrTinDC on Dec 6, 2011 12:59 pm • linkreport

I'm a lifelong resident of the area:
This rendering is from the perspective of Woodglen (side road paralleling the Pike). The building in the foreground on the corner is already existing and will not be demolished (it was built in the last 10 years). Rockville Pike is on the back side of the block and Nicholson Lane is on the back left. In the back left corner of the block this rendering attempts to hide the existing Exxon Gas station that JBG does not own, which also explains the lack of connectivity to the Pike.

The architecture was somewhat jarring at first and very much out of line with the conservative aesthetic sensibilities of Yuppy Metro Washington/MoCo, but it grew on me in 5 minutes. Very much a nice change of pace and certainly a landmark. As previously mentioned though, I wouldn't want more than one

by alex p on Dec 6, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport

@Amber: you're right, the building is on Nicholson Lane. I'm sure they're looking to steal some residents from The Grand and The Wisconsin, the massive luxury brick apartment buildings also on Nicholson closer to Old Gtown.

@MrTinDC: I agree with you, but I also tend to think buildings like this don't come across as well in renderings. A more traditional Art Deco tower would be more desirable in my book as well.

by alex p on Dec 6, 2011 1:14 pm • linkreport

It is certainly a positive thing that the suburban authorities are getting their acts in gear insofar as transit oriented development is concerned- [ not as much in PG, though] but this hideous thing is a real monster. If you are going to have $hit like this- best to keep it in the suburbs and away from the city. I for one am excstatic that the Corcoran never got the money to build that ugly a$$ Frank Geary addition - this glass and steel crap looks incredibly out of place in a tradtional brick and stone city of human scale- when are the modernistas going to realize that to be a "sculptor" you should get out of architecture ? I'm glad it is replacing an even worse strip mall /parking lake- and Im glad they are keeping most of this $hit away from beautiful DC proper. It belongs out in Frank Llyod White Flight- Ville.

by w on Dec 6, 2011 1:17 pm • linkreport

The front will be a nice keystone image, provided the surrounds react against this building.

The back sides are unforgivably banal and flat.

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 6, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport

Also, the reference for this building is Bjarke Ingels. For Example.

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 6, 2011 1:32 pm • linkreport

This is a truly ugly monstrosity of a building. White Flint already has a long tradition of bad architecture. Is this what the new White Flint is going to look like? Yuck! It is sad to see arrogant designs like this become “architectural icons”. We must demand better designs that this. It is more important that the design not be a visual shocker, but a more meaningful and quality oriented design. In this day and age, shouldn’t we be asking for a high-quality, high-performance building that will have an energy profile that will knock our socks off? Think real green architecture. I can only imagine the potential heat losses on that ziggurat façade. This is a very disappointing project. Let’s demand better.

by GK on Dec 6, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure until I see detailed plans, but I like the attempt to provide units with sunlight and access to the sky.

The comments otherwise are fairly predictable.

by spookiness on Dec 6, 2011 1:57 pm • linkreport

Just to put this in to "context", this is the building that Roland Stanley, the planning director of Montgomery County said might be considered a new style for MoCo.

http://montgomeryplanning.org/blog-director/?p=884

This is what's taught at most architecture schools now-a-days, where standing out is valued over fitting in, yet they have you draw a Nolli figure ground of the site. They teach computer generated sculpture, not urban architecture. Keep the density, lose the narcisism.

by Thayer-D on Dec 6, 2011 2:11 pm • linkreport

Frank Gehry is a modernist?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 6, 2011 2:23 pm • linkreport

that building's design process:

"what if we took a rectangular prism, cut it vertically at a 70 degree angle with a chainsaw, removed the smaller portion that was sliced off, and filled the gaping maw with a bunch of staggered glass cubes?"

"great idea! what about the other side, though?"

"it will look like a corporate office building built in Albany in 1983!"

"yeah! build it!"

by nick on Dec 6, 2011 2:23 pm • linkreport

@Neil

In the rendering you linked to, the Bjarke Ingels building is shown in its actual context and from the street. Say what you want about the architecture, but there is an attempt to show that the building relates to its surroundings. (I don't know if it does or not.)

The rendering of the building in White Flint focuses on the courtyard and ignores everything around it (it shows just gray and trees). That says a lot about the attitude the designer and the developer take to the surroundings. Not that White Flint today is much to celebrate, but each of these little developments is supposed to be one part of a larger neighborhood, not a little island in a parking lot (as is the model today).

by dan reed! on Dec 6, 2011 2:25 pm • linkreport

Thayer- as usual- insightful comments. Yes- to the other comment- Frank Gehry is a modernist- he is also a first class a$$hole and arrogant just like Mies, Wright, Gropius, Koolhas , Pei, - and the rest of these car-centric- city hating lords of the dismal. Everything these people make or "design" is not only ugly- it is authoritarian and inststitutional- modernism is also liked by developers because it is super cheap to build. there is NO craftsmanship- associtaed with any of it- and it looks like crap when it gets dirty or when it rains or when it is left to rot. Even the most austere Roman - or even Romanesque buildings hold up nicely as ruins. These things are just future toxic waste sites. They are visual nightmares .

by w on Dec 6, 2011 2:40 pm • linkreport

Oh, so that's what is getting built... I happen to work in one of the buildings that will be razed to make way for this, and trust me, thats better than what exists. It will tie in pretty well with the previously completed development next door. Good riddence to this shack of a building.

As far as the design goes, I don't love it, but it certainly beats your typical boring residential tower as seen in the neighbors. I, for one, welcome our new zigurat building overlords.

by dano on Dec 6, 2011 3:00 pm • linkreport

This makes the proposed development at the West End library seem like a architectural marvel.

by Adam L on Dec 6, 2011 3:02 pm • linkreport

The design evokes the CCTV headquarters in Beijing. Like the CCTV tower (nicknamed the "big boxer shorts" or "big hemorrhoids" by the Chinese public), the White Flint building looms oppressively, seemingly threatening to stomp on the mortals below with its giant legs. The extreme banality of the back of the building, well characterized by nick above, almost comes as a relief.

If the design is this ugly now, just think how bad it will look in 15 years!

by Kirk Van Houten on Dec 6, 2011 3:22 pm • linkreport

Wow. Look at those tall brown walls at street level. That's almost *aggressively* hostile to the urban environment.

And, didn't they get the memo from 25 years ago that nobody uses giant concrete plazas?

No thanks.

(I'll also agree with the others that it looks like a cross between the CCTV building and Habitat 67. Not sure that either of those are a good thing)

by andrew on Dec 6, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

As a resident a few blocks north of this, I have a few thoughts:

-I'm not as appalled by the design of the building as others here. (I also happened to think the Gehry addition to the Corcoran would have looked amazing, and continually lament the fact that it was never built.) It's not a bland glass box, and it's not brutalist. So two points there. The back sides of the building are rather disappointing, but the prism-type sides are nothing if not eye-catching.

-The failure to integrate into the Rockville Pike streetscape is really unfortunate. part of what makes the Pike such an intimidating place for pedestrians is that everything is either a stepped-back strip mall or an imposing office building turned away from the street. There's practically no street-fronting businesses along the Pike, and I had hoped that these comprehensive efforts to redevelop White Flint would help address that. Seems that, at least in this instance, it won't. Still,a s others have noted, it's loads better than what is presently there.

-Re: the concrete plaza. Ugh. Aside from a few workers during lunchtime, that plaza is going to be barren and serve no practical purpose. I guess no one wants to invest in decent landscape architecture anymore, but it's really unfortunate that all we end up with instead is a couple of fountains and small trees.

-All of that said, I am very pleased that the projects around the White Flitn metro are finally starting to move forward. The stretch along the Pike between Grosvenor and Twinbrook has been in desperate need for a redevelopment focus for some time, and it's nice to finally see these projects come to fruition.

by Ben on Dec 6, 2011 4:32 pm • linkreport

I work in the area and the idea that this is MoCo's version of Tyson's is laughable. The scale and vehicle traffic couldn't be more different. The building is ugly (and I like a lot of moderist architecture) and seems completely unrelated to the street which is the problem with much of the current development, new and old in the area.

by Rich on Dec 6, 2011 4:38 pm • linkreport

"And, didn't they get the memo from 25 years ago that nobody uses giant concrete plazas?"

having worked next to charle center plaza in baltimore, and near the Lenfant plaza at the old USDOT building, I can say that is NOT correct. It depends on the size relative to the building, the exposure to wine, the amount and style of seating, etc, etc.

by Somedudesomewhere on Dec 6, 2011 4:51 pm • linkreport

I am pretty sure Gehry is considered a post modernist. I mean its cute that a couple of people who prefer pre 20th century architecture elide the differences between modernism and post modernism, and put forth their tastes whenever any architecture related post is made, but its getting somewhat tiresome, and its not really helpful in terms of looking at what can actually get built.

Note, that is not an endorsement of this particular building

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 6, 2011 4:54 pm • linkreport

Does anyone who comments on this blog actually know the meaning of "Brutalist" or understand "Brutalism?"

Jesus, just because a building has concrete elements or is squat doesn't mean it is Brutalist.

by Brutalist on Dec 6, 2011 4:56 pm • linkreport

Who is going to wash the windows on the, I'm not sure what to call it, the segmented cube side? Looks like it won't be easy. The design is for looks, not for practical use.

by AlanF on Dec 6, 2011 5:11 pm • linkreport

Many have complained about this turning its back on Rockville Pike - how can you make that determination? Is there an elevation or a perspective (or even a ground floor plan) that I missed somewhere? The documents linked here don't say anything one way or the other about the Rockville Pike facade.

by Alex B. on Dec 6, 2011 5:16 pm • linkreport

Did I completely miss something (very possible), or did the article not mention the name of the building architect at all? I got to it (Studios Archtecture)in the links but it would be preferable to have it up front, as prominent as the developer name.

by ZZinDC on Dec 6, 2011 5:17 pm • linkreport

Here's a link to a presentation of the project with much more info. http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/viewer.shtm#http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/community/whiteflint/documents/NoBeII_resized.pdf

The plaza won't be barren, but will have trees a water feature and a seating area for the cafe. There is access to Rockville Pike under the shorter building at the top of the picture and there's retail on all ground floor buildings including fronting the pike. There will also be a small plaza on the corner of Rockville pike and Executive Blvd.

by nic on Dec 6, 2011 6:03 pm • linkreport

@nic

The presentation is really helpful. It definitely answered a lot of my initial questions about how the site is laid out, and I'm interested to see what the plaza will be like. Olin is a really respected landscape architecture firm (they're also doing Canal Park near the Navy Yard) and I think it could turn out nicely.

I'm still not excited about the building, though. The presentation doesn't say much more about how the complex will relate to Rockville Pike. It looks like most of the Pike frontage will be a movie theatre and office lobby, while the other streets (Nicholson, Woodglen and Executive) seem to get loading docks and blank walls. (I could be wrong. Maybe I missed something.)

This project could be better. But I'm glad that the battles over density and mixed-use and public space are being won, so to say. Hopefully other proposals we see along Rockville Pike will build on this project's strengths.

by dan reed! on Dec 6, 2011 6:25 pm • linkreport

Well, if it's "movie theater" or "loading docks and blank walls," I'll pick "movie theater".

But I don't think the question is whether the building has access to Rockville Pike--I would assume that it does, otherwise that would be a colossal architectural fail. I guess my question is, when you walk by the building on the Pike, will it feel a part of--or apart from--the street? Too many buildings and strip malls along the Pike feel completely cut off from it. I'm hoping that these new developments will do a better job creating more cohesion between the buildings and businesses within them, and the streets alongside them.

by Ben on Dec 6, 2011 6:39 pm • linkreport

In that first view it almost looks like CCTV Headquarters in Beijing, only ugly.

by Emily on Dec 6, 2011 10:36 pm • linkreport

Looking at the images, particulary the plan linked by nic above, I think the building could look very striking. That weird-looking facade will be the visual centerpiece for cars driving north on Rockville Pike, which is the intention -- not to face the Pike itself. There will be a lot more eyeballs this way than if it faced people coming over the hill on Nicholson. I'm not saying I love the design, but the way it faces is well thought out.

Also, I'd like to correct something in the piece here -- the building will not be across the street from the Metro, at least not directly so. It's a long block down from Marinelli to Nicholson, and then ya still gotta cross Nicholson. It's worth pointing out because there will surely be other large projects slated to rise above or replace the strip malls on that side of the Pike, both north and south of Marinelli. Those building will be across from the Metro. I assume we'll also see something going up on the southeast corner of Nicholson and Rockville Pike, across from the proposed North Bethesda Market II. If you're looking for a downtown White Flint, it isn't going to come from any one of these projects but from the entirety.

by fischy (Ed F.) on Dec 6, 2011 10:52 pm • linkreport

OK -- A clarification is needed, as I've studied nic's link to the montgomeryplanning.org site. Part of the confusion about the orientation of this new project may be because there seems to be some mislabeling of streets on one of the diagrams. If you look at the drawing labeled "Context Site Plan," you can clearly see it's a trapezoid with the longer parallel side to the south. The next diagram seems to transpose the buildings on to that trapezoid, with the new tower on the north end of the site -- with the facade facing what should be the southern end of the parcel and thus also traffic coming up the Pike -- a striking visual spectacle.

However, that diagram seems to have transposed the names of streets, namely Executive Blvd and Nicholson Lane. If the building really was long Executive, then that facade would face north, and the diagram would be flipped with south on top and north below. Given the shape of that parcel, though, it's clear they've simply mislabeled the streets.

by fischy (Ed F,) on Dec 6, 2011 11:03 pm • linkreport

NoBe Phase II is a welcome addition to the growing urban fabric of White Flint. The “festival street” will be continued from the Phase I development and extend to the Phase III development, with thru connections to Rockville Pike and a future extension to Security Lane. Unlike Tysons and other megadevelopments, White Flint will be anchored by four different retail nodes at MidPike Plaza redevelopment, North Bethesda Town Center, White Flint Mall redevelopment, and the NoBe Market development. These upscale retail nodes will compete for street traffic and will enhance the urban fabric of White Flint, unlike the Tysons Corner redevelopment where retail will continue to be bottled up in two outdated indoor mall at the expense of the Rossylnesque skywalk linked office and residential development. All four nodes are pedestrian-centric and when critical mass of development occurs, these developments will no longer pull in the automobile traffic they would as separate developments with little urban development in between.

by Cyrus on Dec 7, 2011 12:14 am • linkreport

@Dan Reed

Slide 12 in that presentation is a perspective view of what the complex will look like from the Pike. Slide 18 provides more context with phase 1 of the project to the south.

If you don't like the interface with the pike, I'd imagine that's primarily because they're not building on the Exxon lot - the gas station will remain.

Fischy, you're right - slide 7 does transpose the names of Executive Blvd and Nicholson Ln.

by Alex B. on Dec 7, 2011 9:47 am • linkreport

My prediction:

2011: Plan released, community divided but builder gets it through (we need this design to create jobs... blah blah blah)

2012: Ground is broken in Decmeber

2013: Lower building is complete, construction of that horrid skyscraper is started.

2014: Skyscraper complete.

2016: People start to wonder: "is this skyscraper really a match for our comunity?"

By 2018 it's fully built and people simple hate it. (e.g. the church that we've had to suffer at 16th and I). In three decades when people are sick of this building and no one wants to rent the builder will seek to change the facade to make it somewhat more in tune with the surrounding area. Local community is overwhelmingly behind the proposal and then some historic preservation committee steps in and says "Sorry, this building will never be torn down, it's historic"

by Mike on Dec 7, 2011 10:02 am • linkreport

Fantastic! Literally out of the box! Reminds me of something in Miami or Atlanta.

I, for one, am glad to see somebody put up something that doesn't look like everything else - with some height, no less! This region already has some of the most boring architecture in the country - everything looks like everything else and offices and public buildings are the worse offenders.

Kudos to JBG.

by ceefer66 on Dec 7, 2011 12:07 pm • linkreport

"I wouldn't want to see something like this in DC"

Yeah, let's not creative in DC. Let's just stick with the look-alike tissue boxes, brutalist monstrocities, mausoleum look-alikes, and 10-story "towers".

The old convention Center site is being squandered on the same old boring downtown DC tissue boxes. They could have domne something great. Instead, passersby will hardly notice it.

by ceefer66 on Dec 7, 2011 12:12 pm • linkreport

That building is horrifying and is thus perfect for the area. Approve.

by Ben on Dec 7, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the link, nic. The presentation also wins me over on the public space in the center. It looks like it will actually be pretty functional.

In some ways, they've built a podium building and then split the podium up to create a central plaza. It has nice small pedestrian blocks and generally porous buildings.

Plus, it keeps the streetwalls, right Thayer?!

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 7, 2011 1:28 pm • linkreport

the presentation is laughable in places--like the Spanish steps as a counterpoint to this monstrosity. It's pretty unlikely that the plaza will get much use other than on the half dozen nice days in the fall and spring when office workers want lunch outside. Plazas need a lot more density and varied uses in order to work and even then they often don't get much use. Rockefeller Plaza works because it's a tourist attraction--the plazas not far from there often are devoid of people. Successful plazas provide something unique.

by Rich on Dec 7, 2011 1:37 pm • linkreport

I agree with Rich. The plaza isn't unattractive, it's just not going to get used much. Maybe a popular cafe or two with sidewalk seating will help usher some life into it, or maybe they'll schedule some events and performances there; I don't know. What I do know is that, absent anythign else to attract people in, it's going to be nothing more than a largely vacant plaza.

by First Ben on Dec 7, 2011 2:33 pm • linkreport

Reminds me of the pyramid headquarters of the TYRELL corporation in Bladerunner

by Anonny on Dec 7, 2011 5:11 pm • linkreport

Hideous. In 10 years or so it will be a decaying monstrosity on par with the Soviet architecture in Kaliningrad.

by Omar on Dec 8, 2011 4:03 am • linkreport

I forgot it's possible to embed images here. The Kaliningrad House of Soviets, for reference:

by Omar on Dec 14, 2011 11:15 pm • linkreport

Only in this area, and maybe in Lilliput, would people refer to a 300-foot tall building as a skyscraper.

by Stewart on Jan 6, 2012 7:30 pm • linkreport

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