Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Windows Without Visual Integrity - Loudoun County High School

Introducing the new 2017 Loudoun County High School look.
(Also note missing snowbirds)

As of August 24, school is back in session at Loudoun County High School. The windows renovation has been completed, and the front of the school is back open. It's time to look at how all the new windows look together on the front facade.

By making the windows similar to the Georgian section's, you can now pick out a lot more detail and differences between the windows.

New 2017 (left), and Old (2005/2006 replication of 1954

The width difference was always apparent between the two style windows. With these similar-looking Georgian windows, you can also see there was also a height difference. The Georgian section's windows were longer than the 1950's section. Having two differently-styled windows masked that.

There's also a difference of width of brick space between each window. In the Georgian Section, there's a brick width of almost 3 bricks. In the 1950's section, the brick width is two bricks.

Even the window sill is a different height in each section (Georgian: 2 bricks high; 1950's: 1 1/2 bricks high). If the Georgian and 1950's sections were originally supposed to have the same windows, shouldn't their dimensions have matched?

Dimensions aside, the new window muntins (the white grid) are of a different scale and rate from the Georgian section's. The Georgian section's are rectangular, tall and thin, while the new windows are perfectly square. If one more vertical muntin could have been added to the new windows, it might fit in better with the Georgian section's windows.

Picture from early August 2017

What really bothers me is how blocky these new windows look. You know when you stack four Lego windows together to make a mega-window in the house you're creating? That is exactly what these windows are doing. They are four separate windows grouped together. Because they are each separate window entities, they have their own frames, which creates the thick white "plus" symbol in each mega-window. It gives each window this light cartoony look.

1950's section c. 2010. The vents along the bottom row are
on the windows third from the left and second from the right. 

A feature I did not notice before in the 1950's section windows were the periodic vent openings. These vents were not original to the building (the original vent openings are in-between and below the window lines). These vent openings had been placed on the covered-over window section, so they did not stand out on the former windows.

Is it winking, or does it have a lazy eye?

With the 2017 windows, the vent openings were left exactly where they were. Because the windows are now full height, these vents take out some of the window and stick out like a sore thumb. It ruins the line of the windows. You look down the line, and then you stop and wonder why the pattern was briefly disrupted. Why can't those vent openings be routed somewhere else?? The vent opening was put in those locations because, I theorize, there was no window there at the time and it would have been cheaper than going through brick. Now that the windows are at full height, this feature should have been reconsidered. If you are trying to architecturally unify a facade, you don't want to disrupt your main pattern. These vent openings should have been moved.

The windows can open!

One design feature I do like is that these windows can still be opened. That caught me by surprise. These windows didn't have a screen on them, so they didn't look like they were made to be opened. But this also points out yet another difference in window designs. These windows angle outwards to open, while the Georgian section windows move up and down.

As my first post said, there was so much work and effort that went into replicating the look of the original Georgian windows when they were replaced in 2005/2006. It is baffling to me that the same energy did not go into trying to match these new windows with the older ones. It doesn't look cohesive. It achieves its goal the same way that red delicious and granny smith apples are similar -- they're still apples.

What this all boils down to is that these new windows did not succeed in architecturally unifying the facade. They only seem to help highlight all the differences. There are still two different window designs on the front of this building.

LCHS Windows Saga:
Windows Without Historic Integrity - Loudoun County High School
Windows Without Narrative Integrity - Loudoun County High School

Enjoy other LCHS Articles from the same author:

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sterling Community Center Annex - 2017 Update

Sterling Annex, 2018

We are back at the Sterling Community Center Annex in the year 2017!

Since we last spoke, no news has been announced for that end of the Befort Furniture property. There has been construction happening in other areas of the stretch. One showroom is currently being renovated/remodeled. A new parking lot is being constructed right next to it.

Currently under renovation showroom

New parking lot!

While these exciting projects are going on, Sterling Annex has deteriorated more. A lot more windows have been broken.

Windows broken by.. fire extinguishers?

This almost looks artistic

Ivy has started to take over the exterior again. (Or maybe it has continued to, my 2016 visit was in the middle of winter...)


I noticed one window was wide open. The interior is not locked off from vandalism.

Easily-accessible open window

Interior shot through a window, featuring some vandalism

2016's fallen gutter has been removed from the front of the building, but now the gutter on the eastern side is falling down.

My favorite door is still the same as 2016. Also, see the
scattered roof shingles on the ground.

The stairs leading to the basement has flooded. I don't dare wonder how the actual basement is doing.

Flooded stairs to basement

If preventative steps are not taken soon, I fear there might not be anything salvageable from this school for the future.

As I am not a member of the Sterling community (and am fighting my own preservation battle right now), I feel my part in this story can only consist of chronicling the building's condition. That being said... My 2016 Sterling Update became this blog's 4th most-viewed post (the original 2012 post has remained in 5th place). There is clearly some interest in this building. I hope that interest can be organized to be used for some purpose.

Read all Sterling Annex Posts:
Sterling Community Center Annex (2012)
News on the Sterling Annex Building (2013)
Sterling Community Center Annex - 2016 Update

Monday, July 31, 2017

Windows Without Narrative Integrity - Loudoun County High School

Loudoun County High School, c.Fall 2008

Loudoun County High School having two different types of windows on its front facade was a deliberate choice by the architect. I don't know why it was chosen, but I do know that it helps to tell a visual narrative they created for the building.

Architects sometimes like to manufacture storied pasts into their 100% newly-created buildings. These moments are more commonly found in the top-tier theme parks, but it sometimes enters the real world.

Take LCHS. With countless renovations and expansions, it has layer upon layer of actual architectural narratives. But on the original 1954 layer, the front facade had its own story to tell. It's short and sweet: A Georgian-style building was built in the 18th century. Then in the 1950's, extensions were added on the sides. There you go!

Of course, if you really pay attention, you can see this is not its real history. No 18th century building is going to have a concrete foundation. The bricks' color and age in the Georgian section match the 1950's wings. And where are the chimneys, how would this building stay warm in the winter?! The facade is playing a gag on us. It knows what it truly is, we know what it truly is, but it's still going to put on the masquerade.

So how can you find this narrative?
The Roof & Molding
Building Jutting Out
Cornerstone Placement
The Windows

Roof & Molding

Pretty straight-forward. The 18th century section has a gable roof and exterior molding, very common for that time period. The 1950's sections have flat roofs and metal plating capping the exterior. When viewing the school off-center, the ends of the gable roof make that section stand out as a separate entity from the extensions.

Roof dichotomy on LCHS

Building Jutting Out

On a typical square building built in one go, the facade would all be uniform. When an expansion occurs, new and old sections don't always line up perfectly. To support LCHS's story, the Georgian section's facade is pulled a foot forward from the 1950's-style wings. This gives prominence to the Georgian section and a small visual clue that the sides were most likely added later.

Georgian section jutting forward
(Missing waterspout section because molding
was under renovation, c. 2009/2010)

Cornerstone Placement

Where does the cornerstone go? Like its name suggests, on the corner. Where is Loudoun County's cornerstone? On the corner of the Georgian section, where the wall juts out a foot. This places it in the middle of the front facade, far away from the actual corner of the building, but exactly where it should be in the story concocted.

Cornerstone on LCHS - 1953 is the year construction started
on the building.

The Windows

Ah, back to the windows. As I've previously stated, each window matches the section it is in. The Georgian section has colonial-inspired window design. The 1950's windows were all modern windows.

Window differences! From Lord Loudoun 1962 yearbook


This original story has now been compromised by the new windows just installed. Here's the new narrative created:

A Georgian-style building was built in the 18th century. Then in the 1950's, extensions were added on the sides. The windows on the extensions matched the older style, albeit wider, but the rest of details didn't try to blend in with the original section. 

This story is no longer short nor sweet. It's kind of confusing. You can't carefully look at the facade and discover this story anymore. The story worked because everything you needed to know was right there in front of you and nothing contradicted it. Now, you have to have the information that the windows were changed to understand the facade's original narrative. It's very muddled. The new windows have nullified the narrative.

In order for this narrative to return, the windows have to be replaced with ones matching the 1950's design.

LCHS Windows Saga:
Windows Without Historic Integrity - Loudoun County High School
Windows Without Visual Integrity - Loudoun County High School

Enjoy other LCHS Articles from the same author:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Windows Without Historic Integrity - Loudoun County High School

Loudoun County under renovation
(Yes, as predicted, that bunting is still up in the half-circle window)

I heard that Loudoun County High School was getting a renovation of various areas. I decided to go by and look at how things were going.

NJROTC/Former LCHS Bus Annex Building renovating to
make the space better equipped for classroom usage

I noticed the front section of the building was getting new windows. That's all dandy. Then I saw what the windows were going to look like:

Boarded-over window holes, and new windows.

I left fuming. Those are the windows they chose??

Let me rewind and give a lot of background: In 1954, the school's front facade was built with a Georgian-style center section. Extending from the ends were these 1950's-Modern-style classroom wings (That is how the original building was built, I'm not exactly sure why, but at this point I just chalk it up to a bygone-era's character and charm). The windows in each section reflect their section's chosen style.

Lord Loudoun 1959 yearbook

Lord Loudoun 1962 yearbook
Each window pane unit could open separately!

In 1976, the windows on the end sections were replaced. The top third of the windows were now covered. The bottom 2/3's of the windows matched the previous design. Covering the tops of tall windows in old school buildings was a common practice at the time. You can still see traces of this practice at many other older schools (i.e. Catoctin ES, Hillsboro ES, Leesburg High School before its Senior Center renovation, etc). I didn't like these windows either, but at least 2/3's of them kept the original style.

Lord Loudoun 1977 yearbook

In 2005, Loudoun County HS received its last major renovation. One of the mandates of the renovation was that the front facade would not be aesthetically altered. "Great care was taken to restore the classic central fa├žade, down to the detail of replicating the original wood windows and preserving the original cupola and slate roof," reads a LCHS renovation overview powerpoint from 2008. The 1976 window style remained (to my knowledge, only the central Georgian windows were replaced)

New 2017 window (left) next to 1976 window (right)

Which brings us to today. On one hand, the full window space will be a window once again. That's a positive, I'm really happy about that. We now have the window technology to have huge windows again! On the other hand, the windows are imitating the Georgian section's windows. That is not okay. It takes away the power of the 1950's architecture and revises the building's visual narrative. It's taking away the building's historic integrity. This could have been an opportunity to fix a wrong from the 70's, but instead it's been mishandled and now the building will be stuck with these windows for the next 40+ years.

Is this really a big deal?

I can hear you saying, 'Oh, they're just windows. Wait until the project is over, I bet they will make the front look aesthetically cohesive and pleasing.' 1) Mount Vernon does not have a symmetrical window arrangement. Are you going to move those windows around to make it aesthetically cohesive and pleasing? Of course not, you don't mess with its historic integrity. 2) The new windows don't even match the Georgian windows that well. Didn't I say those windows were just replaced in 2005/2006? And no one can find matching ones? I'm calling a lack of caring.

This is the iconic, picture-perfect entrance. This front entry has been the background for picnics, prom pictures, graduations, and one 2012 presidential campaign rally. The flagship school of Loudoun County Public Schools, the 7th oldest school in the county still operating as a school, a school over 62 years old... and these new windows tell me they didn't hire a historic consultant for this project. That is a huge mishandling of an important LCPS asset, and more evidence of a lack of caring.

While I'm at it... This is not the only thing on the front facade that's gone downhill recently. Many of the snowbirds on one side of the Georgian section's gable roof are missing. It's been like that for over a year now.

Missing snowbirds on one side

No missing snowbirds on the other side

One of the original c.1954 lamp posts had to be replaced. At night, this new lamp is incredibly bright. It bleeds so much more light than any of the other lamp posts, and casts a terrible yellow/orange light on the school. I'm all for greater security and intentional uplighting (This school would look great with a modern lighting package), but this is unintentional and caused from a lack of attention to detail.

New Lamp Post (old base to the left)

Example of one of the original lamp posts
(still operating)

Shot at 1/60 second (so not over-exposed)
1954 light (L), 2016 light (R)

Shot at 1/60 second (so not over-exposed)
1954 light (L), 2016 light (R)

And here's a night shot example from 9/2015, before the
new lamp post (not the best comparison, but it's what I got)

I could rattle off a couple more observations....

Should the foundation be doing that...?
This is at the corner of the building, in plain sight.

... But I'll save those for another time. Maintenance and care is always going to be an issue with older schools. But by doing things right the first time, with care and with respect to the past, it will always cost less than doing it wrong and having to fix it again.

I am frustrated at the lack of historical understanding when LCPS has blueprints and photographs of the school at their disposal. I am angry there aren't protections in place for older school buildings like Loudoun County HS. I am regretful for the missed opportunity, and that my favorite school is stuck with incorrect windows for the next few decades. I am disappointed in LCPS.

"No doubt about it, the Loudoun County High School will be one of the finest school buildings in the state when it is completed next fall. ... the building is designed to give high school students the best physical facilities that can be provided. There is no reason why it shouldn't. After all, Loudoun is one of the wealthiest counties in Virginia. We can afford the best for our school children."
- The Loudoun Times-Mirror, [Editor Commentary Section], January 14, 1954

“Take pride in the way our school looks, especially to others. The cooperation of everyone is needed to keep our school building and grounds in excellent order.”

-LCHS SCA Student Handbook circa. 1974

Sources Used:
Countless Lord Loudoun Yearbooks
"2008 Exhibition of School Planning and Architecture: Loudoun County High School" for CEFPI ESPA, used to be found on the LCPS website

LCHS Windows Saga:
Windows Without Narrative Integrity - Loudoun County High School
Windows Without Visual Integrity - Loudoun County High School

Enjoy other LCHS Articles from the same author:

Couldn't fit in what I was writing, but wanted to include as well:
Am I against everything that has changed the front of the school? No way! The 2016 accessibility ramps added to the front portico are lovely. They were wonderfully integrated into the landscape and they make the front of the school accessible for all. These were a necessity and they minimally changed the front appearance. Unlike the new windows.

One accessibility ramp to LCHS's front portico. There is
another one on the other side, mirroring this one.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Arcola School - 2017 Update

Arcola Elementary School (1939) in 2017

On the way to a wedding-eve rehearsal for one of my dear friends, I drove through the community of Arcola. Spying the backside of the 1970's Arcola Elementary School from the road, it reminded me that I hadn't visited its predecessor in a while. So I made a detour on my way home to the 1939 Arcola Elementary School.

Although Arcola is still vacant and its future still uncertain, its situation is a lot better. In 2013, with permission and support from Loudoun County's Board of Supervisors, the school became listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is the second school in Loudoun to receive its own listing, the first being the Douglass School in Leesburg. These things aren't handed out willy-nilly around here! (Some other schools are a part of Register-recognized Historic Districts) (Loudoun has 87 listings in total currently) (Anyway, I digress)

The Board again discussed in 2014 what to do with the school, and the community rallied the Board against considering a demolition option. For the next two years, the Board looked for a private-public partnership to reuse the school. The Windy Hill Foundation proposed converting the building into affordable living apartments. While the plan had a lot of community support, the Board axed the plan. The property sits close to Dulles Airport's runways and is in a future runway flight plan, so the Board has avoided putting residential properties in this area due to noise. Other factors, such as the Foundation's finances for the project, changing the property's zoning, how much of the school building would be preserved, and the increased residential density the project would create led the Board to reject the plan. So Arcola is still empty, but safe for now.

Arcola is still owned by Loudoun County Government, used as overflow storage for County General Services Administration.

Arcola Elementary School (1939) in 2017

I had a little trouble finding the school. Its address is officially listed at 24244 Gum Spring Road. The school is more accurately on Silver Spring Boulevard, disconnected from Gum Spring Road to the south. I believe I ran into this exact problem in 2011. There's a lot of development happening in the area, so I wouldn't find it hard to imagine the Boulevard was part of the Road in the past, but then construction necessitated that they split up.

Official address at Arcola. Google swears it's spelled "Gum
Spring," this sign is the only place that says "Gumsprings"

The school's windows have been boarded up since I last visited. With the grass cut and the working lights around the grounds, the property feels very secure and taken care of.

View from Arcola's front doors

Backside of Arcola (1939) in 2017

The fields and playground out back look like they are still available for use. The basketball court had a pile of dirt on its surface, I don't know what was going on there.

Baseball field behind Arcola School

Arcola has weathered its vacancy well on the exterior. The roof appears fine. There's a light amount of paint flaking off. I only found one rotting wood location:

Wood rot

Arcola's Colonial Revival architectural details

With similar timelines, it's interesting to watch Arcola and Sterling Annex's stories unfold. Both smaller schools, both community centers, and now both vacant. Both schools were rated as not worth renovating by county inspectors, yet still remain with everyone scratching their heads as to what to do with them.

If I had to choose which one I thought would survive (if one does)... While I think Sterling is slightly more attractive and is located in a more economically-viable area (relatively), I think Arcola will remain. Its listing on the National Register of Historic Places is definitely a plus. Sterling could also seek nomination to be on the Register, but no one has stepped up. And there is the key difference between the schools: active community support. For years now, Arcola School supporters have rallied for its survival. This is mentioned in many newspaper articles and in the school's Register write-up. I haven't read about that same kind of support in articles about Sterling. Arcola will survive because its community mandates that it will.

I typically look at Loudoun's motto "I Byde My Time" as a bad one, an acknowledgement that change/progress will take longer than expected here. In these instances, more time might be all these schools need to find their next use. As always, I wish both of them luck.

Sources Used:

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Union Street School Sees Possible Re-Use

Union Street School in Leesburg, Virginia

I love preservation and the re-use of sites. I also love the Union Street School in Leesburg.

So when I read in the LoudounNow that Alumni May Revive Former Union Street School, I got very, very excited.

I hope they are successful, it's a beautiful site that needs some love.

See & Read my Adventure into the Union Street School Here