News and notes from Reston (tm).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hats Off: Reston's Original Master Planner Dies at 81

jamesrossant2008_200x150pxl.pngJames Rossant, the master planner of Reston and the architect who designed Lake Anne Plaza, has died.

James Rossant, the master planner of Reston, died on Tuesday at the age of 81.

The architect, urban planner, artist and former commissioner of the Art Commission of New York City passed away at his home near Condeau, France, from complications related to leukemia.

His work in Reston established one of the first post-war “new towns” in America. The suburban development was inspired by German architect Walter Gropius and the Italian coastal town of Portofino.

Reston was initially created in 1964 by Robert E. Simon whom the town is named after. Rossant designed Lake Anne Plaza, which was the first section of town built.

Rossant also designed the U.S. Navy Memorial at Market Square on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the National Archives.

He graduated from Columbia University, worked at Mayer & Whittlesey and taught at New York University and Pratt Institute.

He worked on the Butterfield House in Greenwich Village, the original master plan for Lower Manhattan and Battery Park City and is largely credited for the preservation of the Soho District in New York City.
Hats off.


  1. I've lived in the building that houses the Naval Heritage Center, and now I'm very much enjoying living around the Town Center. Thanks for your awesomeness!


  2. The Convict in the GulagDecember 16, 2009 at 4:09 PM

    So, Reston was inspired by the Axis powers during the post-war era. I always suspected that there was something fascist in the DNA or RA.

    Rest in Peace, James Rossant. My family and I have always enjoyed your work in and around Lake Anne.

  3. Yeah, my hat goes off to you, Mr. Rossant. Lake Anne Plaza is one of my favorite places in the world since 1977.

  4. I just, no esception from the majority of the Restonians, like Lake Anne, and I owe late mr. Rossant lotta nice serene time. It is his due reward to have the beautiful lake named after him. Why not the beautiful lake gets called Lake Rossane (mixed from Anne and Rossant) ?

  5. We could rename the DRB approved color in his honor.

  6. anon 3:27AM makes a good point.

  7. Lake Anne what? On anyone's top 1000 urban spaces? No.

    Not even 50 yr old this "classic" architecture crumbles and has been crumbling for years. I'd categorize the Baptist church as "brutalist". Most of this modren design has failed because its doesn't work, can't be maintained easily, and is arguably ugly. Maybe this fellow was more accomplished in some other projects or with tangential development (preservation) etc. but Lake Anne is just a mess and history is proving that.


  8. Broke in Charter Oak (BiCO)December 17, 2009 at 1:18 PM

    Anonymous @ 12:09 PM: Thank you! Now I won't be the determined to be the most crotchety and cranky person on this blog! Boo-ya! :-D

  9. BiCO: You have to be a lot older than 23 to get the title "crotchety"!

  10. Merry Christmas everyone-

  11. Hickory Cluster Knuckle DusterDecember 17, 2009 at 8:14 PM

    Anon 12:09

    Lake Anne is awesome. You are probably some newcomer living in quasi-Reston aka North Point.

    Mid century modern architecture is likewise awesome. I'd much rather live in my Goodman designed house than a particleboard replica of a simulacrum of a copy of a bastardization of some colonial or cape house.

    I also like you you take the opportunity to take a cheap shot on what was otherwise a more somber posting on the Restonian.

    I'm glad I won't be seeing you around the nicest place in Reston. Have fun at the North Point Starbucks!

  12. Agree with you, HCKD. I've spent a good portion of my life in Goodman designs. Two years in Hickory Cluster and about ten in Hollin Hills. Although there's something to be said for traditional American design, there's nothing like feeling like you're living in sculpture.

  13. While Roussant designed the fountain in Lake Anne, his partner, Conklin(sp?), designed the Plaza and the Navy Memorial, not Roussant. Conklin is still alive, lives in the area and is deserving of much of the acclaim that has been given Roussant over the years.

  14. I've been in Reston since '73 and am trained as an architect and I don't go to Starbucks. I'm sure Hollin Hills etc. is just fine - I'm not bitching about that. Actually the planning of Lake Anne is not too bad either (it fizzles at the extremities tho...) Its the nasty-ass architecture that is crap. Spalling concrete, rotting door & window frames, monotone color scheme, brutal forms (literally too - ever let your toddler play in the cement rowboat - HMS Inquisition?)- Its just cheap and dated. It's bad - some Mid-century stuff (well, most) is just bad and even if we have so little of it, its no excuse to preserve it. I don't have a problem with peoples houses whether they are glass sculptures or brooding capes - to each his own. But the public stuff ought to be good and if it ain't then be a man and pull it down.


  15. Hickory Cluster Knuckle DusterDecember 18, 2009 at 6:23 PM


    I've been in Reston since '72 so you are a newcomer in my book. (ha ha take a joke)

    Back in its heyday, LAke ANne was great, if you've been here since '73 you'd know that. There was a truly functioning common space with amenities. Common ground, meenahans, the pharmacy/postoffice, safeway, Il Cigno etc. It was always full of people.

    The problem arose when RTC came along and safeway left.

    I disagree entirely with your comments about the plaza:

    My toddler loves to play in the pirate ship and fountain, as did I when I was his age.

    The homes surrounding Lake Anne in Chimney house and Washington plaza are gems. large on the inside with unique exteriors in an incredible setting.

    If there is any lesson we can learn from the utter destruction of Hunters' Woods shopping center is that knocking down old stuff to make room for an empty parking lot is a shit idea. Hunters Woods, BTW was a vibrant community area as well. when I was growing up it was always full of people and the pinnacle of awesomeness was going to baskin robbins after a soccer game. Fritzbees (the precursor to the whole zany bar-food restaurant) was always full as well.

    RTC fucked up all the businesses in Reston and the worst is those bastards don't pay any assessments to RA. So they ruin our businesses and don't pay us anything and all the stores are corporates so NONE of the money generated stays in the community. F RTC.

    BTW, I'm curious what architecture you like around here, and I'm also curious to know what your designs look like.

  16. Knuckles,

    Really - the plan @ Lake Anne is dandy - just hate the grungy architecture. I remember the Safeway as well (not so fondly tho because our carpool lady just HAD to stop there, or Magruders in Vienna, after school rather than just taking us home). There are aspects of the Chimney house that are appealing but overall I think it fails and thats mostly from the brutal presence of the cast concrete. And the rowboat is pretty - just kinda dangerous - one slip and you're off to the ER (my kid slipped climbing a wall @ Dumbarton Oaks - thank God the Georgetown ER was two blocks away - there's really no accounting for the danger of style - Georgian Revival or otherwise).

    And the surrounding row houses are OK - no arguments there (they did use salvaged brick in some which is particularly soft - you can see the brick faces spalling off in places - old brick was the rage in the 50s & 60s). The little private gardens adjacent to Chimley House are very sweet.

    You are correct in your assessment of Hunter's Woods - the place is deadly now. I was a big non-paying fan of the Baskin Robbins water cooler back in the day. The wading pool was groovy until they filled it in with dirt and junipers.

    I do think the planning - the plan - the sequence of spaces is much more enduring and important than the individual building design. That's whats so depressing about architecture in this country - its the sprawllllll. You'd think that given the price of land that good design would follow but so much is tacky crap from untalented designers. Case in point - the Guggenheim. Really sexy if it were perched all by its lonesome on a cliff by the ocean but to cram it into a city block - wrecks the urban fabric. I'm mixing my logic up a little but even moreso - Fallingwater. I was there a month ago - just poorly detailed construction thats wonderful eye candy AND requires a few million every year to keep if from tumbling into the creek. Don't get me started...

    The little Shaker style colonials near North Point are cute. Some of the modren condo midrises at Town Center are pretty good - the bellied-out Section 8 row houses (not the other million dollar ones with the vinyl-sided penthouses) near the police station are kinda cool. The insane Amsterdamesque concrete rowhouses/stackables across from Lake Anne pool are pretty groovy...

    These are my guys...

    They inspire me but my stuff would never look like theirs. The "look" really isn't the point. If you have the patience for deciphering academic prose then I recommend this...


  17. Hickory Cluster Knuckle DusterDecember 18, 2009 at 7:35 PM


    I live in one of those insane concrete rowhouses. I love it. I also think the homes by Clothiel Smith in Waterview cluster are the most beautiful townhomes in Reston.

    I survived playing on concrete, I imagine my little one will too.

    Kreutzberg towers with wings looks like the heron house. Terragni is also a MCM architect.

    I don't get why you don't like Lake Anne.

    Oh well. At least I'm glad Lake Anne has been designated an historic place so is relatively immune from people who don't like concrete.

  18. Too bad we don't name our daughters Clothiel anymore.

    Knuckles - How'd that CONCRETE garage work out for you all?


  19. Hickory Cluster knuckle dusterDecember 19, 2009 at 12:50 PM

    Torn down before I moved in. The story is a sad one because it was incorrectly laid the first time. Not a problem with the material or design, just bad application of the material. All around us concrete structures stay up if they are poured correctly.

    It was an innovative design and the above plaza was enjoyed by everyone here.

    But the cluster is getting past that sad chapter and looking forward to the next 45 years of HC.

    I'll wager the CONCRETE structures will be around when the chipboard mcmansions of Northpoint have all blown away.

    Copper pipes, steel I beams and concrete, HC ain't going nowhere

  20. Battery Park City is a 92-acre (0.4 km²) planned community at the southwestern tip of lower Manhattan in New York City, United States. The land upon which it stands was created on the Hudson River using 1.2 million cubic yards (917,000 m3) of dirt and rocks excavated during the construction of the World Trade Center and certain other construction projects, as well as from sand dredged from New York Harbor off Staten Island

  21. whoever made the anonymous comments about conklin is misinformed: conklin was more the businessman of the two, rossant the archtitect/planner/artist


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