Centers for an Edge City: Transforming Tysons Corner, Virginia

One of the largest \”downtowns\” in America does not beare much resemblance to anyone\’s image of downtown, nor evoke any conventional notions of urbanity. Tysons Corner, Virginia, located a mere dozen miles west of Washington DC, is the poster child for sprawled America. Literally a rural intersection as recently as mid 20th century, today\’s near incomprehensible assembly of autonomous shopping \”centers\” and office parks (and recent demand for housing) represents in gross amount of built space the 13th largest commercial center in the nation. And the area has the traffic congestion to prove this. Transit, however, is on the way, with a new transit line connecting Washington to Dulles Airport soon to deposit four stations in the area of Tysons Corner. This arrival of an archetypal urban instrument, public transit, will serve as the departure for the studio. The studio will explore the phenomena of the \”Edge City,\” a term coined by journalist Joel Garreau in a book of the same name published in 1991, while postulating its next transformations. Edge Cities such as Tysons Corner are themselves evolving from mere highway interchange-focused, dense suburban commercial agglomerations, ala Garreau\’s definition, to environments that accommodate most of the components of contemporary urban life, albeit in very non-traditional spatial configurations. Evolution is necessary as the limitations of places like Tysons Corner – offering all of the deficiencies of a sprawled landscape with few of the benefits of either pastoral suburbia or energetic urbanity – become ever more evident to those who work or shop there, live in the vicinity, or commute across the area on their way to other parts of the metro area. Will the arrival of transit to Tysons Corner allow it to become more \”urban\”? Can its future growth modify in form to provide the benefits of mixed activities, cultural interaction and density? Can it become a good place to live? Any urban formation in its earliest manifestations appears chaotic. Can Tysons Corner be made less so, or does it, indeed, contain the DNA of the city of the future? If so how can one seize this potential? These are among the questions that the studio will address through design and planning probes. The Tysons Corner Studio is open to, indeed welcomes, the participation of, students from each of the disciplines at the GSD: architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and planning.