In 2017, DAVID RUBIN Land Collective proudly began a collaboration with developer JBG Smith on a comprehensive landscape master plan to revitalize Fairfax County Virginia’s Crystal City, now known as the National Landing area, through a strategic, all-encompassing approach to development and a redefinition of the site’s connective tissue.
Challenged by vacant office spaces, underwhelming, often brutal facades and entries, and a suburban approach to urbanism, Crystal City was a significant development challenge: disconnected, lifeless, and hardly memorable. But not for JBG Smith. The Chevy Chase, Maryland-based developer was able to see past the infrastructure and aesthetic issues, welcoming the challenge when they purchased the property in 2002 as Vornado Realty Trust. Their forward-thinking approach to the public realm make JBG Smith a perfect partner for our studio, as they, too, acknowledge the value of experience in a well-designed public realm.
The focused plan identified three distinct neighborhoods, unified via the streetscape of Crystal Drive, and includes new residential, office, and retail developments as well as improvements to the surrounding landscape. Simultaneous to the Landscape Master Plan, Land Collective assisted JBG Smith in an effort to conceptualize greater connectivity between adjacent but physically separate Reagan National Airport and National Landing’s future urban landscape. Essential infrastructure updates will make the area more accessible, beginning with the construction of additional entrances to the Metro station at Crystal City and the prospect of a connector land bridge between National Landing and Reagan National, essentially redefining the landscape as we know it.
At Land Collective, we believe life is what happens between buildings. We understand that today’s talent seek experiences, not just cool buildings. We know that a successful development needs to not just be walkable, but that it needs to have a sense of place – a landscape that resonates with and inspires the people who will use the spaces every day. Extraordinary landscapes resonate in the hearts and the minds of those who participate in them.
By asking the right questions, JBG Smith crafted a transformative master plan for a city that has long been known merely as a Metro stop on the way to the airport. How can we make Crystal City more memorable? And more resilient, so that the spaces can grow and change as the development progresses? JBG asked these questions early on, because they believe in the quality of a place. The team sees the spaces in between as important as the assets themselves, and they understand that the buildings must be designed in complement with the landscape and public spaces if the development is to thrive. They recognize that the design and added value of a thriving, engaged urban landscape may not (initially) be quantifiable on a pro forma, but it will surely post significant dividends when realized in a holistic manner.
Forward-thinking urban developers need to prioritize the landscape, connectivity, and people. We’ve seen countless cities vie to be the latest tech headquarters, and we know the competition is tough. JBG Smith’s approach might just be the competitive edge necessary to stand out, and it’s definitely one from which we can learn.