written by:
photos by:
March 16, 2009
Originally published in America Goes Modern

A mere eight miles from Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Georgian neoclassical plantation home, and just nine miles south of Old Town Alexandria, the colonial bastion that provides much inspiration for Northern Virginia’s epidemic of multimillion-dollar neo-colonial McMansions, sits Hollin Hills, one of the country’s most progressive housing developments.

Originally constructed in 1970, the Wilson residence was updated by the architect couple in 2004. They expanded the home by about a third, but the original design of the rear elevation (seen here at dusk) was largely maintained.
Originally constructed in 1970, the Wilson residence was updated by the architect couple in 2004. They expanded the home by about a third, but the original design of the rear elevation (seen here at dusk) was largely maintained.
Photo by 
1 / 6
Charles Goodman in his Washington, D.C. office during the 1950s.
Charles Goodman in his Washington, D.C. office during the 1950s.
Photo by 
2 / 6
charles goodman, renovation, alexandria, virginia
The Wilson’s living and dining rooms are outfitted with furniture from B&B Italia, Fritz Hansen, Modernica, and Knoll.
Photo by 
3 / 6
During the 2004 renovation the Wilsons replaced the plywood siding with cedar, and used reclaimed brick to maintain the home’s classic appearance.
During the 2004 renovation the Wilsons replaced the plywood siding with cedar, and used reclaimed brick to maintain the home’s classic appearance.
Photo by 
4 / 6
The light-filled foyer was part of Goodman’s original design for Unit House No. 6, upon which the Wilson’s model is based.
The light-filled foyer was part of Goodman’s original design for Unit House No. 6, upon which the Wilson’s model is based.
Photo by 
5 / 6
Jens Risom’s 1941 lounge chair for Knoll sits alongside custom-made cabinets in the Wilson’s master bedroom. Ken’s father, an archaeologist, collected the pottery and wall hanging in the American southwest.
Jens Risom’s 1941 lounge chair for Knoll sits alongside custom-made cabinets in the Wilson’s master bedroom. Ken’s father, an archaeologist, collected the pottery and wall hanging in the American southwest.
Photo by 
6 / 6
Originally constructed in 1970, the Wilson residence was updated by the architect couple in 2004. They expanded the home by about a third, but the original design of the rear elevation (seen here at dusk) was largely maintained.
Originally constructed in 1970, the Wilson residence was updated by the architect couple in 2004. They expanded the home by about a third, but the original design of the rear elevation (seen here at dusk) was largely maintained.
Project 
Wilson Residence

Conceived by forward-thinking developer Robert Davenport in the 1940s and designed by architect Charles Goodman, the enclave of some 450 modernist homes is an anomaly not only in the greater Washington metropolitan area but in the whole country. Despite Hollin Hills’ popularity among its residents and well-documented public acclaim, in the half century since its inception, it has inspired few imitators.

When architects Sally and Ken Wilson moved to a leafy cul-de-sac in Hollin Hills six years ago with their two sons, it was exactly the sort of place they had been looking for. “I lived here for six months when I was just out of school,” says Ken. “I thought it was the coolest place, and, if we could afford to, I always wanted to come back.” With a hint of nostalgia Sally adds, “It’s a great neighborhood, with a fantastic community association. I never imagined doing that kind of stuff but the people are so cool, you want to.”

It was the post–World War II housing boom that made Hollin Hills possible in both its physical and social form. Fueled by an expanding economy and boundless atomic age optimism, the American Dream of home ownership was now well within reach of a growing middle class. While in most instances the result was your average split-level, the left-leaning Goodman and Davenport envisioned for Americans a better life through enlightened modern design. It was precisely this dedication to a higher standard, and Davenport’s long-standing involvement, which helped Hollin Hills evolve into such a lasting and solid community.

Sometime in the late 1940s, after securing initial investments from a group of liberal veterans known as the American Veterans Committee, some of whom were the neighborhood’s first residents, Davenport and Goodman set about creating a site plan for the 225 lush rolling acres that would reflect the pair’s progressive ethos. These overarching decisions, so unique considering today’s zoned, coded, and mandated suburbia, are the foundation of the special character Hollin Hills exudes. Houses were situated on slopes and at angles that afforded maximum privacy and respected natural drainage pat-terns and flora. Meandering roads followed the contours of the land, abandoning both the standardized grid and sidewalks, too. Parks and trails were established along the small streams that border the property. Even a benign set of rules, such as the banning of fences between proper-ties, further extended the pastoral setting and fostered a shared community atmosphere. “It really stands apart from what you would expect to find in D.C.,” Sally comments. “It’s a 35-minute commute from downtown, but I feel like I’m in a vacation house.”

When it came to designing and building the homes, Davenport and Goodman took a similarly dynamic approach. Over the course of the community’s roughly 20-year development, the team offered prospective buyers nine different housing types, each with numerous variations depending on scale, siting, materials, and the needs of the homeowners. They set up their own shop where the team of builders constructed 12-foot-long wall panels, which were then trucked to the site and assembled into place—a sort of onsite prefabrication. (Goodman would later consult for National Homes, the country’s largest prefabricated housing manufacturer.) To maximize the views created, and introduce a symbiotic relationship with the outdoors, all of the houses featured large expanses of windows (as much as 28 and a half feet of floor-to-ceiling glass in some models).

Brick, perhaps the only concession to colonialism, was recycled from decaying Baltimore warehouses and formed much of the houses’ interior and exterior massing. Of the relationship between these materials, architect Paul Rudolph noted in a 1961 Life magazine article that “the contrast between the solidity of the brick and the openness of the glass makes an admirable compromise between the cave and the goldfish bowl.”

Many of the early Hollin Hills designs featured standard pitched roofs atypical of mid-century modernism; however, later models introduced a graceful inverted butterfly roof and also a completely flat roof that could still stand up to Virginia’s thunderstorms and winter. In most of the homes, a large open-plan living and dining area was separated from the bedrooms by a service core made up of the kitchen and bathrooms. Through the adaptable and modular designs, Hollin Hills operated as a larger-than-life petri dish in which Goodman could experiment with evolving architectural concepts, and continually refine his practice.

Although the Wilsons’ house was one of the last to be completed, in 1970, and was much grander in scale than the original postwar models, Goodman’s design offered little in the way of modern amenities. Ken quips, “I had about four feet of closet space, which might have worked in 1950, but just doesn’t anymore.”

After living in the house for three years, Ken and Sally decided to tackle a renovation themselves.“The goal,” says Ken, “was to be able to walk up to the house and not be able to find where the addition was.” Gutting the rear of the structure, but keeping Goodman’s scheme for a row of three bedrooms across the rear elevation, the couple expanded the interior service core to accommodate an updated kitchen, larger closets, and master bathroom, while maintaining the clean lines of the clerestory and trim on the exterior. Taking a cue from Ken’s Washington, D.C.–based practice, Envision (which has designed environmentally responsible offices for the U.S. headquarters of Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, and the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) project in D.C.), the Wilsons went to great lengths to use sustainable materials and pay close attention to energy efficiency. “We used copper plumbing instead of PVC, zero-VOC paints, insulated glass, bamboo and sustainably harvested wood, increased the roof rafter size to allow more insulation, made the walls thicker, and put in a mechanical system that is three times more efficient,” says Ken. Through-out the home, all of the new cabinetry employs a formal-dehyde-free wheat board made from agricultural wheat straw waste. The couple even went so far as to get reclaimed brick from Baltimore, just as in the original homes—“but now it costs three times as much because of the labor involved in taking old mortar off the bricks,” Ken says. Although the house is now a third larger, the energy costs are remarkably reduced.

The Wilsons’ seamless 21st-century renovation shows that Hollin Hills still has much to offer the next gen-eration of American housing. In 1957, at the American Institute of Architects’ Centennial Exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Hollin Hills was chosen as one of “Ten milestones in the future of America’s architecture.” Undoubtedly, the future envisioned then is far different from what exists today, but it’s still fair to say that the development represents a milestone—a neighborhood that can boast not only an original vision but the ability to live up to it.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016