Reston would have looked fundamentally different had plans in 1974 to build a mall on the site of the Reston Town Center been approved, said Alan Ward, editor of “Reston Town Center: A Downtown for the 21st Century,” a book recently published by Academy Press.
Instead, Ward, an architect with Sasaki Associates, who helped design several components of phase II of the center, including the nearly complete Midtown residencies, tells what really happened and how private enterprise created a downtown by design, including what has evolved into what he calls “a 24-hour neighborhood.”
About a year and a half ago, Ward began the book project by assembling key players to help tell the story, including Reston’s founder Robert E. Simon, Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas J. D’Alesandro IV, Robert C. Kettler and Raymond A. Ritchey.
At a book signing Saturday, May 13 during a celebration of the Reston Town Center in Reston Town Square, which he designed, Ward discussed the book and the center that became a prototype downtown for suburban areas around the country.
How did this book get started?
It was initiated by Bob Kettler, the developer of Midtown. I give him credit because he wanted to do something to explain the town center, but do it in a serious way. He then asked me to bring in other writers. I wrote the chapter on the history because I was intrigued by the history.
How has Reston Town Center influenced the development of other town centers?
It started with a vision. It had the highest aspirations for being a downtown. It’s success in making a distinct urban place in suburbia proves there’s a taste for urban living outside of the city. It’s proves that urban places in the suburbs will be successful in the marketplace, and we’re seeing more and more projects where developers are trying to [duplicate it].
Are you designing any suburban downtowns now?
We’re currently working on one in Columbia, Md., and in the Woodlands, outside of Houston.
What’s important for successful town center design?
I would say what’s important is visionary developers combined with good planning. Private developers along with good planners are required to make a lasting place, an enduring environment.
It will be interesting to see if [Reston Town Center] acquires the qualities of an older downtown. Even though Reston’s new, I think it will acquire those attributes.
How has mixed-use development been important?
You need all those elements [retail, restaurants, office space and residential] to a degree. We’re just now seeing it all come together with a significant amount of residential coming online.
What are the future challenges?
When this is built out, I think the next challenge is expansion and rethinking some of the areas [to the north] planned decades ago.
Any surprises in the book?
I think people might find it surprising to see some of the [previous] concepts for the area. They were radically different proposals for the Reston Town Center. Just imagine if it were a shopping mall.