The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Full steam ahead for suburban skyscrapers

Within the confines of the District of Columbia, the question of whether to allow tall buildings is a subject of much debate. But in the burgeoning urban centers of Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland, there is no question: more tall buildings are coming.

Alexandria's proposed Hoffman Towers. Image by DCS Architects.

For many decades Rosslyn has been home to the tallest skyscrapers in the Washington region. The taller of its Twin Towers is 381 feet tall. But soon that building will rank no better than 3rd tallest in Rosslyn alone, with the 384 foot tall 1812 North Moore and the 387 foot tall Central Place in construction or soon to begin.

Even with those new buildings, Rosslyn could soon lose its crown. Buildings as tall as 396 feet could soon be built around the Eisenhower Metro station in Alexandria. They would eclipse Alexandria's current tallest building, the 338 foot tall Mark Center Hilton.

Tysons Corner is in on the action too. It's tallest buildings right now are the 254 foot Ritz Carlton and the 253 foot 1850 Towers Crescent. But at 365 feet, a building in the proposed Scotts Run Station development will soon dominate.

North Bethesda Market II, soon to be the tallest building in the Maryland suburbs. Image from JBG.

In Maryland, North Bethesda Market I topped out last year at 289 feet tall, beating out Gaithersburg's 275 foot tall Washingtonian Tower and thus becoming Montgomery County's new tallest skyscraper. Its reign will be short-lived, as a new 300 foot tall ziggurat has already been proposed nearby.

And this week, big news is coming to Reston and Crystal City.

Fairfax County approved a 330 foot building in Reston yesterday that will become the tallest building in the Reston Town Center cluster.

Reston's next tallest building. Image from RTC Partnership.

Meanwhile, the Arlington County Board is scheduled to vote this coming weekend to either approve or deny a 297 foot building in Crystal City that would tower well above all its neighbors. Tall buildings have long been constrained there by restrictions due to Reagan National Airport, but those rules recently changed, so taller buildings are now allowed.

These aren't particularly tall buildings by the standards of large central cities. Baltimore and Virginia Beach both have buildings over 500 feet tall, and the world's current record holder is a whopping 2,717 feet. But still, the trend in the DC area is unmistakable; buildings are getting taller, and will most likely continue to do so.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


Add a comment »

So, is "Stop trying to turn DC into North Bethesda!" the new "Stop trying to turn DC into Manhattan!" ?

by JustMe on Sep 13, 2012 12:10 pm • linkreport

Is central place ever going to be built? Has 1812 N. Moore signed a single tenant? And what about the Penzance and other Monday properties in Rosslyn.

the link to the Hoffman page strongly suggests that project is way behind schedule.

by charlie on Sep 13, 2012 12:43 pm • linkreport

Yay for the tall building in reston, though the next big step is to really start connecting from the established RTC to the places along Reston pkway. This building is a step in that direction.

by drumz on Sep 13, 2012 1:19 pm • linkreport

way behind schedule= No money. I wonder if the sequestering threat is really holding things up for new starts. I bet investors are waiting to see what happens, and are mitigating a potential contraction in commercial office space demand.

by RJ on Sep 13, 2012 1:19 pm • linkreport

At the conceptual stage, there are a number of 400-foot buildings proposed for Tysons. So long as they are right at the rail stations, they would be allowed. Tall buildings in these locations make sense as they concentrate density within the immediate TOD areas.
Unless and until the economy improves significantly, we are likely to see too many of these buildings proposed for final approval.

by tmtfairfax on Sep 13, 2012 1:50 pm • linkreport

I was going to say it, but tmtfairfax beat me to it. There will probably be a dozen or more buildings in the neighborhood of 400' in Tysons Corner soon.

by Vik on Sep 13, 2012 1:52 pm • linkreport

Oops, I didn't mean to say soon. They're in the pipeline based on the preliminary plans that have approximate building heights for the many multi-building developments in Tysons Corner.

by Vik on Sep 13, 2012 1:53 pm • linkreport

Great news!

It's time this region actually started to look like a city. Enough already of the look alike, same-height stumps and the 12-15 story "towers".

by ceefer on Sep 13, 2012 2:37 pm • linkreport

I guess this is a good thing in theory, but those renderings have got to be some of the most uninspired architecture I've ever seen...

by andrew on Sep 13, 2012 3:26 pm • linkreport

DC still wins with the Washington Monument at 555 feet, the region's tallest structure (I know, it's not an occupied building).

by GWalum on Sep 13, 2012 4:37 pm • linkreport

Sounds like it's time to stop mislabeling these areas as "sub-urban" and call them what they are: D.C.-adjacent urban areas (that in some cases have more people per capita than many areas of D.C.).

by Misnomer on Sep 13, 2012 4:38 pm • linkreport

DC still wins with the Washington Monument at 555 feet, the region's tallest structure (I know, it's not an occupied building).

And it's a beautiful structure, indeed. I just wish it had some "brothers and sisters".

by ceefer on Sep 13, 2012 5:18 pm • linkreport

So the DC area will evolve into multiple smaller dense clusters of high-rise buildings in Rosslyn, Crystal City, Tysons Corner, Alexandria, Silver Spring?, other sites centered on Metro stations scattered around the DC perimeter while the downtown DC area remains at 130'?

The region has obviously been trending that way for years with the tall buildings going up in Rosslyn across the river, but carrying the trend to its conclusion will make DC a rather unique city or metropolitan region in the US. More distributed with multiple dense clusters around a core than any other US city that I can think of. Interesting result of building a Metro system in combination with height restrictions for the core city.

by AlanF on Sep 13, 2012 6:15 pm • linkreport

The twin towers in Rosslyn are 381 feet as measured from sea level. 1812 N. Moore, which is under construction, and Central Place will be about 80 feet taller, as the heights given for those are from the average site elevation. That is rather significant by our local standards and will make Rossyln stand out more than it already does, but still nothing to write home about.

by xtr657 on Sep 13, 2012 8:31 pm • linkreport

@alanF; yep, maximizing livability inside the core, and building cheap commerial on the edge. I wonder what that sounds like?

by charlie on Sep 14, 2012 8:25 am • linkreport

DC's twin Paris is also raising heights in suburban areas like La Defense and the 13th Arrondissement, some in La Defense will be nearly 100 stories.

Add DC's failure to promote a La Defense EOR to it's failure to get IKEA EOR, National Place EOR, Wegmans EOR etc.etc.etc.

by Tom Coumaris on Sep 14, 2012 10:24 am • linkreport

Very good article!

New skyscrapers are nice and great density boosters, but they're not always practical, and this is the case with a few of those mentioned above.

In Virginia the new Reston tower will stick out like a sore thumb being head and shoulders above anything nearby (including the prominent ex-Accenture building). What's worse is that the 20-years overdue Metro station is already a good distance from the actual town center, but will be almost a mile from the new tower. Reston planners could use a lesson in urban planning from Bethesda, Ballston, Friendship Heights, Rosslyn, Silver Spring, etc.

The worst of all these buildings economically speaking is the Crystal City tower. Besides the skyline-wrecking issues, there's no way Crystal City can absorb all of that class A space. Thanks to the feds moving, Crystal City is a virtual ghost town and has the most depressed urban real estate market in the area.

The Virginia Beach tower is almost hilarious since it clearly doesn't belong there. There must be all of 3 buildings in "downtown" Virginia Beach taller than 4 or 5 storeys. It's amazing that something that they would build something like this in a "city" with a pop. density of only 1,713/sq mi (low even by Southern standards). Should have been built in Norfolk at half the height.

The towers that make the most sense would be the two Rosslyn projects and North Bethesda II, the latter of which is especially impressive because of its iconic design.

by King Terrapin on Sep 14, 2012 11:31 am • linkreport

Height is great, often a necessary way to get density in an area.

The Reston case is illustrative that height and density are not the same thing, however - as the ~290 foot tower only has an FAR of 4.08.

by Alex B. on Sep 14, 2012 11:55 am • linkreport

@Tom Coumaris wrote:

Add DC's failure to promote a La Defense EOR to it's failure to get IKEA EOR, National Place EOR, Wegmans EOR etc.etc.etc.

What is EOR? Do you mean RER?

by LuvDusty on Sep 14, 2012 12:38 pm • linkreport

As in:

by LuvDusty on Sep 14, 2012 12:38 pm • linkreport

Tom, Do you mean EUR in Rome? That was Mussolini's La Defense but with a massive dose of politics. I think it's fair to question why the Parisians and Romans want these glass towers to the outside of their cores.

by Thayer-D on Sep 14, 2012 12:59 pm • linkreport

LuvDusty- "EOR" usually means "East of the River" in DC. East of the Anacostia River.

by Tom Coumaris on Sep 14, 2012 1:00 pm • linkreport

The tallest structure in the area is not the Washington Monument at 555 feet. It's actually the Hughes Memorial Tower radio mast on Georgia Avenue at 761 feet tall. I call it DC's Eiffel Tower :D.

by Eric on Sep 14, 2012 2:52 pm • linkreport

The slew of 400' tall buildings for Tysons is not accurate. They are all sub 400 currently in every rezoning. I wish they were taller and more densely located, but unfortunately most will be between 150-250' with only about 1-350'+ building per major rezoning. The article is correct in citing the 365' tall Cityline tower at Scotts Run as the highest currently proposed.

My hope is that after transportation funding agreement is complete, that Macerich or Lerner will come back to the table to talk about an ambitious rezoning for their unique properties and the possibility of a 400+ tower, but in the current environment of NIMBYism coming out of McLean, without the transpo funding set any additional RZs are going to be hard pressed.

by Tysons Engineer on Sep 14, 2012 4:11 pm • linkreport

Cap One's proposed rezoning application includes a 268' and a 396' building. Neither are scheduled to be built soon. Subject to Cap One paying the currently effective Road Fund rate, rather than an older one effective at the last rezoning, the board of directors of the McLean Citizens Association voted, on September 12, unanimously to support Cap One's rezoning application.

The application consists of five phases, with only one phase proposed for immediate construction. Phase 1 consists of more office space for Cap One's staff and a residential building for out-of-town Cap One staff working temporarily in McLean). Cap One hopes to move its workers from two other leased sites in Tysons to its new campus in 2014.

Cap One has permission to build three 200 K sq ft buildings now and is arguing it should be able to pay Road Fund fees based on that approval. However, Cap One's existing zoning will not permit construction of Phase 1, so neither county staff nor the MCA agrees with Cap One's position.

by tmtfairfax on Sep 15, 2012 11:44 am • linkreport


I think there is some confusion on Cap One's application for heights; the build you are referring to (BLDG 12). It is listed as 421' now, but it is also only listed as a 28 floor above grade building. Thats 15' per floor which to me doesn't pass the logic test, and I can't tell if it is including 3 floors of below ground.

by Tysons Engineer on Sep 17, 2012 8:57 am • linkreport

Tysons Engineer, I received my information on heights from one of Cap One's attorneys at Cooley. I emailed him and posted what he answered.

by tmtfairfax on Sep 18, 2012 8:43 am • linkreport

Fair enough (the county website is past date) perhaps that is shown in the latest set of plans going to the commission this week.

Did the attorney say anything about the approved vs unapproved tax payment?

by Tysons Engineer on Sep 18, 2012 9:15 am • linkreport

Capital One continues to argue it should be permitted to pay the lower Tysons Road Fund amount for 600,000 sq ft that was in effect when the County approved the construction of three buildings. Many, including me, disagree since Cap One is not proposing to build those buildings anymore and is seeking rezoning to build its new plan.

by tmt on Sep 18, 2012 10:39 am • linkreport

I dont disagree with you on that TMT. It would set a new precedence as all that matters in the world of rezonings is built and not built. Previously approved conceptuals are overwritten by new rezonings. I am sure that will be negotiated out by the PC before going to the BoS (we will find out Thursday when PC meets with Cap One)

by Tysons Engineer on Sep 18, 2012 1:43 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us