News and notes from Reston (tm).

Friday, December 14, 2018

Hats Off For A Real (Brutalist) One: William Conklin Passes Away At 95

The last of the two architects that designed the earliest parts of Reston has passed away. From the New York Times:
William J. Conklin, a versatile architect who in the 1960s helped design the model community of Reston, Va., and oversaw the restoration of the Greek Revival temple that since 1848 has served as Brooklyn’s seat of government, died on Nov. 22 in Mitchellville, Md. He was 95.
Conklin's partner, James Rossant, passed away in 2009.
Mr. Conklin, an acolyte of the pioneering modernist architect Walter Gropius at Harvard and later a scholar of Incan textiles, worked mostly Mr. Rossant, and their influence extended well beyond individual buildings.

The two were recruited by the developer Robert E. Simon Jr. to plan Reston, the self-contained community for 75,000 people in suburban Fairfax County, about 20 miles west of Washington. Founded in 1964, Reston was the sort of “new town” evoked by Clarence Stein’s Sunnyside Gardens in Queens.

In Reston, Mr. Conklin and Mr. Rossant designed the core of Lake Anne Village Center, which, when it opened in 1965, was the first of the community’s hubs — a mix of high- and low-rise residential buildings and stores beside an artificial lake in what was viewed as an innovative response to humdrum suburban sprawl.

The paper of record, the (failing) New York Times, rightly credited his work in Reston ahead of Manhattan's Battery Park City and the U.S. Navy Memorial downtown. And while we may make fun of the J building, the rounding error, the concrete statuary and the rest of Lake Anne's brutalist excesses, the reality is that Conklin and Rossant created something enduring in the Virginia woods more than a half-century ago, and we're all the better for it. As one of our commenters said at the time of Rossant's passing:
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.
Pour one out for Conklin, Rossant, and all the others who made Reston what it is today.

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