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Reston @ 50: Planning, Designing, and Marketing Reston

Robert E. Simon, Jr., had initially formulated a set of seven goals for the town he was about to develop:

• The town would provide a variety of leisure opportunities;

• The town would provide housing for a variety of needs and incomes, and inhabitants would be able to spend their entire lives in the development;

• Planning would focus on individuals not large-scale groups;

• Employment opportunities, as well as housing, would be located in the town;

• Commercial, cultural, and recreational activities would be available to residents immediately;

• Beauty, both structural and natural would be nurtured in the town;

• The town would be financially successful.

Simon consulted with two different planning firms to assist in master planning of the project. Harland Bartholomew and Associates of St Louis developed the overall master plan, while Whittlesey and Conklin of New York engaged in the architectural design of the first village center. Simon envisioned seven villages of 10,000 residents each and employing mixed-use concepts seen more often in urban settings in Europe where schools, churches, office buildings, and clusters of homes often shared close proximities with each other, making room for plenty of pedestrian access and untouched green space. Simon gave the project the name Reston, the first three letters coming from Simon’s initials. Because Fairfax County had not previously been host to a project such as this, no zoning classifications on the county’s books fit it.  Simon’s people petitioned the county planning office to create a new designation. Called the Residential Planned Community, or RPC, the zoning ordinance was approved, along with Reston’s master plan, in July of 1962.

Three architectural firms designed the homes and buildings for the original village center at Lake Anne (named for Robert’s wife, Anne Simon). Whittlesey and Conklin, the firm who laid out the overall architectural design, designed the Chimney House townhouses, the fifteen-story Heron House apartment tower, and the shopping center apartment complex on the east end of Lake Anne.  These buildings have a distinctively modern appearance with flat roofs and simple construction.  Architect Clothiel Smith, who designed the Waterview townhouse cluster on the north and central side of the lake, aimed for the atmosphere of a Mediterranean fishing village with buildings of differing colors and heights with pitched roofs.  The Charles Goodman houses at Hickory Cluster, just to the north of Lake Anne and Waterview, were a series of geometrically square and rectangular townhouses in a wooded area.  Goodman was also known for his work on the Hollin Hills subdivision in Northern Virginia in the 1950s.

Reston’s initial marketing hinted that it was a radical departure from the housing opportunities that were offered to Northern Virginians during the mid-1960s.  Indeed, it was promoted as a sophisticated yet practical alternative to existing developments that consisted of tract housing.  Reston was described as a new town, planned to eventually house 75,000 residents and having a decidedly urban and diverse character.  The new town would be a mixed-use community with a variety of choices in housing types.  Homes were planned in proximity to shopping, schools, churches, and employment opportunities.  There would be abundant cultural activities as well as recreational opportunities, such as boating, golf, tennis, and swimming.  Natural woodland areas would tie the villages together, and walking and equestrian trails would facilitate travel about the community without the necessity of an automobile.  It would offer, in a nutshell, the best features of the city in the country.  Decades later, print and television marketing campaigns would continue to highlight Reston’s natural amenities.     

Reston @ 50: Planning, Designing, and Marketing Reston