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The New Dominion: Surveying Virginia’s Midcentury Modern Architecture

This month, DHR celebrates Virginia’s rich and often overlooked history of mid-century modern architecture. Over the last several years, DHR staff collaborated with the Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects to carry out a statewide architectural survey of mid-century modern places. The survey focused on documenting buildings, parks, districts, and many other resources constructed between 1945 and 1991 and representative of popular architectural styles from that period. The resulting survey materials expand DHR’s inventory of mid-century modern buildings, build upon the Agency’s long-running New Dominion Virginia Initiative, and increase the Agency’s ability to support the stewardship of Virginia’s recent past. Later this year, DHR will issue a summary report providing more information about the “recent past” survey project. In the meantime, here are a few themes highlighting mid-century modern designs from across the state.

Midcentury Modern architecture across the Commonwealth!

 

mid-century modern architecture across the Commonwealth!

 

From Bristol to Alexandria, a keen eye can locate prime examples of mid-century modern architecture in every corner of Virginia. The combination of affordability and eye-catching features made Modernist designs an attractive choice for clients ranging from business owners to local governments. DHR’s effort to document mid-century modern architecture across the state resulted in the survey of diverse building types in many different settings. Looking for a mid-century modern stop on your next roadtrip? The City of Hampton’s Air Power Park (1967), a hexagonal steel-and-glass museum building covered by a geodesic dome and surrounded by a “rocket garden,” recognizes Hampton’s early role in American aviation and space exploration. This singular Midcentury roadside attraction and intact example of experimental mid-century modern architecture is open to the public and offers free admission.

 

Air Power Park in Hampton, 2019, DHR ID #114-5824
Air Power Park in Hampton, 2019, DHR ID #114-5824

 

mid-century modern architecture takes many forms, some of which may look familiar!

 

The term “Modern Architecture” refers to a wide variety of architectural styles popular from the late 1800s through the present. Both DHR’s New Dominion Initiative and the statewide “recent past” architectural survey concentrate on the decades between the end of World War I and the end of the Cold War, when the rapid expansion of Virginia’s cities and suburbs spurred a distinct increase in the construction of mid-century modern architecture across the state. Period examples of Virginia mid-century modern architecture range from the rectilinear International Style of the Reynolds Metal Headquarters (1958) in Richmond to the highly sculptural Neo-Expressionism of the Houston Chapel (1969) on the Randolph College campus in Lynchburg.

 

Reynolds Metals Company International Headquarters, 2012, Henrico County, DHR ID #043-0242
Reynolds Metals Company International Headquarters, 2012, Henrico County, DHR ID #043-0242

 

Houston Chapel on the Randolph College campus, 2019, DHR ID #118-5510
Houston Chapel on the Randolph College campus, 2019, DHR ID #118-5510

 

While many mid-century modern buildings stand out from their surroundings or illustrate a break with traditional architectural styles, Modern architecture can also reference the past. DHR’s inventory of mid-century modern architecture includes numerous examples of innovative designs inspired by much older places. In the City of Charlottesville, for example, several mid-century modern buildings feature domes inspired by local Jeffersonian architecture, specifically the University of Virginia’s Rotunda and Monticello.

 

A ca. 1965 Rotunda-inspired Wells Fargo Bank in Charlottesville, 2019, DHR ID #104-5344
A ca. 1965 Rotunda-inspired Wells Fargo Bank in Charlottesville, 2019, DHR ID #104-5344

 

mid-century modern architecture helps tell the story of Virginia!

 

The decades after World War II brought unprecedented change to Virginia as the state’s population shifted from rural areas to cities and surrounding suburbs. New building materials, time-saving construction techniques, and technological advances like air conditioning sustained this shift. Local and state governments expanded to serve new communities, while the presence of Federal government agencies and related businesses in Northern Virginia multiplied. The Commonwealth’s college and university campuses grew quickly too, first to meet the demands of returning World War II service members seeking secondary education under the G.I. Bill and later as the Baby Boomers pursued degrees. The proliferation of mid-century modern architecture in Virginia helps to narrate these changes. Places like Lake Anne Village (1967) in Fairfax County, a Brutalist style planned community constructed to meet the growing population of suburban Washington, D.C., illustrates these changes and provides valuable historic context for this period of pivotal change in our state.

 

 

Lake Anne Village Historic District, Fairfax County, 2017, DHR ID #029-5652
Lake Anne Village Historic District, Fairfax County, 2017, DHR ID #029-5652

 

As DHR continues to document places associated with Virginia’s recent past and encourages the stewardship of the state’s rich Midcentury architectural heritage, we invite you to support our efforts by sharing buildings that you think best represent the New Dominion period by contacting Architectural Survey Manager Blake McDonald at blake.mcdonald@dhr.virginia.gov.

 

Want to learn more? Check out DHR’s New Dominion Virginia Initiative webpage: https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/survey-planning/new-dominion-virginia-initiative/


Updated: September 2, 2022