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An Interview With: Doug Carter

Washington, D.C.
An Interview With: Doug Carter

An Interview With: Doug Carter

Doug Carter is the go-to architect for developers in suburban Washington, especially Northern Virginia. Originally from Yorkshire, England, he came to Reston 39 years ago because he had been working as an architect in Germany and won a competition to design the Cologne Medical Center. He came to the U.S. to look at comparable buildings, and learned that the leading hospital design consultant, Gordon Friesen, was based in Washington, DC. "Gordon kept beating on me to work in the U.S., and so I came here for what I said would be a maximum of two years."

But In Friesen's office he met Bob Davis, with whom he partnered in June 1968 to create what became Davis Carter Scott. Davis retired 12 years ago and meanwhile Lena Scott, who arrived in 1980, has taken charge of interior work. Based in Tysons Corner, Davis Carter Scott now has 104 employees and currently does a breathtaking range of suburban master planning, base building and interior work: from three million square feet for Comstock development at the last planned Metro stop in Loudoun on Route 772, to Potomac Yard in Arlington, to Park Potomac and Watkins Mill in Maryland. They even just won a competition for the new Wiehle Avenue Kiss & Ride.

Doug talked with Bisnow on Business about his philosophy and some of his projects in Stafford County and Tysons Corner.

Bisnow on Business: You are known as an architect who thinks about the future. So what are you thinking?
That there's a huge freight train coming down the track, and we're pretending it's life as usual. We will get flattened if we don't act quickly.

What is that train?

What should we do about it?
I'm not coming at this not from no-growth or NIMBY standpoint. Growth is healthy, and we should celebrate it. But we need to control it.

Okay, so what would you do if you were tsar?
Start treating the cause, not the effect. The effect is congestion. You hear people say, "Build more roads! Build the Metro!" I'm not saying you shouldn't build some. But that's basically treating symptoms.

So what's the cause?
Backward looking, congestion-generating, totally antiquated zoning ordinances. Since World War II we've put in place something called spot zoning. You're supposed to have your offices over there in the office park, and retail over here, and schools down there, and so on. The result is we've created society that cannot function without getting into a car. It's crazy. We have people commuting to our office from West Virginia. Some people commute to D.C. from Pennsylvania.

And the answer?
High-density, mixed-use, transit oriented development. Environments that will create a sense of community, excitement, and economic vitality. Places that are amenity rich where you can work and play and pray and shop without having to get into a car.

But not everybody likes that. Many prefer to live in quieter, even pastoral areas.
Of course you have to give customers choice in America. Some people don't want to be in high density areas, but many do — it's a movement sweeping across the country. It may actually be a false choice. We've got a project in Stafford County, near the Quantico marine base, that we think blends both. We're designing it in such a way that you have high density residential, but we're saving 50% of the land, so when you look out your back window you see parkland.

How big is your project in Stafford, and with whom are you doing it?
We're doing it for Garrett Development, and it will be on a peninsula projecting into the Potomac River. Probably 6000 dwelling units, three to four million square feet of commercial real estate, from office to a small R&D component, with retail. Construction would start in the 2007-2008 timeframe and people would start to occupy within 6 to 9 months after that. It would be 1/3 condos, 1/3 townhouses, 1/3 houses.

How is this different from a Reston?
We're taking it a step further and focusing it on transportation, which Reston does not. The Metro is coming to Reston belatedly, and you'll have to hike through office buildings to get to the town center. Also, we will really have a commitment to preserve the land in Stafford. It is a gorgeous piece of land, very hilly, with beautiful views over the Potomac River, lots of trails, wildlife, even bald eagles that nest in the area. I have lived in Reston for 39 years and have been on all three design review boards. Reston has certainly tried to create trails and open spaces, but not to the tune of 50%.

You do work in Tysons. How do you see the density issue there?
There are about 160,000 jobs in Tysons right now, which at the current metro area rate of 1.6 persons per household means you need about 100,000 dwelling units, not the mere 6000 units in Tysons. If next Monday morning you had 100,000 units there, you'd hear a huge sucking sound, which would be the sound of cars being sucked off Northern Virginia Roads. Of course, that's nirvana, and it will probably never happen that way.

So short of that, what are you doing to create high density, amenity-rich living?
We’re planning several major mixed-use developments there, all of which are committed to high density and transit orientation. Tysons Corner might truly be called a planning accident, but now, with the arrival of Metro, we have an opportunity to build a vibrant new community where people can live, not just commute to work.

Are you working with the car dealers on another parcel?
Yes, on the north side of Route 7. We want to create a really well designed high density urban area on about 50 to 60 acres, which could generate two or three thousand dwelling units. Fairfax has an amazing opportunity to take advantage of the Metro stations that are coming.