Cas Neer: Architect


I first became interested in Hollin Hills about 1950, shortly after I moved here to the metropolitan area. I worked for one firm in the District and a friend went to work for Charles Goodman who was the architect for the new community. Since the community was just being planned he let me in on the ground floor on what was happening, and being an architect I was particularly interested. To my knowledge, it was the first modern community that was planned for a speculative developer. I had just moved down here from Boston and there were two or three communities in Boston which had been planned communities, all modern, however they were designed individually for each family, whereas this was a "track built development."

Using the same principles of a planned community, but planned particularly in the sense of getting the maximum natural use of the site involved, Hall in Hills is a very hilly rolling sight, and the idea was to maintain as much of the natural vegetation, the natural charm of the wooded area, and utilize the valleys and the contours of the land in the most efficient way. It resulted in a number of cul-de-sacs around which groups of houses were built, which provided considerable privacy. Nevertheless it does a great deal more for the land and the preserving of trees and natural streams. It also provided natural drainage areas from the slopes to go into streams which were then developed into little park areas that were open community property.

One of the manifestations of modern architecture was the discovery of how glass could amplify the sense of space, particular1y since the houses were relatively small. With as much natural vegetation being preserved, there was something to look out on when you had all of this glass.

One of the main purposes of the design was that this was not tightly designed individual lots separated by fences, but was to have a sense of community where one space flowed into the other. By in large it has been very successful although there had been some areas where people jealously guarded their privacy by the erection of fences. The groups of shrubbery suggested boundaries to some degree, so one got a sense of ownership without a hard line of demarcation, therefore contributing to the sense of total community.

I would say basically they function well, or they wouldn't have sold as well as they did. There's nothing particularly unusual about the function of the houses other than perhaps the extreme amount of glass by comparison to other standards. The glass would tend, in the wrong orientation, to make some bedrooms cold and less desirable and therefore disturb the function to some degree. Most every area had the advantage of considerable solar gain and the delight of sunlight coming within the house not only reduced the heating bill, but also created communal areas, and the families tended to congregate in them. In that sense I think it has a particularly good function.

As to their adaptation to new forms of heat or new forms of energy - all that's rather difficult to say. In regard to solar heat which is probably the prominent variation energy consideration today, the most effective slope of a roof to get the maximum benefit from solar radiation is considerably steeper than most of the Hollin Hills houses, so that you begin to have a very great architectural effect upon the present buildings. So it becomes an individual architectural decision if solar heat is added.

Already available on the market are separate solar heating units that can be placed strategically anywhere near the house unrelated to the buildings themselves. So this is one possibility of adding solar energy to the buildings without having to change the architecture of them.

I have lived in three Hollin Hills houses and have found all of them had very reasonable heating bills by comparison with what friends of mine had who lived in traditional houses.

I started my architectural practice starting Hollin Hills additions in one form or the other. Some additions were easier to handle architecturally than others. The general intent of the community is to respect the character and aesthetics of the basic design which was originated as part of the overall project. These houses were started in the 50's and the aesthetics of Hollin Hills is a 1950 aesthetics. We are well into the 70's and architectural attitudes and aesthetic attitudes have changed considerably within that 20 year period. Most of the additions you are seeing today have a much more 70's look, whatever that means! There is less glass, less concern with functional requirement and more variety of architectural expression. There still is the usual requirement that all additions receive approval by the architectural reviewing committee that has been maintained from the beginning of Hollin Hills.

My particular vintage sort of was related to the modern movement of architecture. I was excited about the very features that Hollin Hills provided not only social, as a planned community, but its adaptation to natural surroundings, its use of glass, enjoyment of nature, and the introduction of sunlight. Having lived in this kind of environment as well as in traditional houses, I have found it highly satisfactory. I think it is superior to surrounding communities, certainly the Bucknells and some that were much more concerned with profits.

The lightness of support members within the large areas of glass of Hollin Hills has been heavily criticized by the more traditional because of the feeling of flimziness. This was a purposeful objective of the 50's, to take everything down to its lightness and still be structurally effective, to have a minimum of massive wall. A traditional house was basically a mass with holes punched in it.

Planned community is a sort of catch all term and there have been planned communities before so it's not a new thing. It just happened to be one of the first. My opinion of why Hollin Hills was significant is that it was built by people who were presumably out to make a fast buck and utilize the latest principles of good sound planning in terms of human and natural resources and trying to get the most out of the land for the land and for the people.

I would also point that the very same principles employed in Hollin Hills back in the 40's and 50's are the basic principles that were used in the planned communities in Reston and Columbia, two of the very earliest basic complete towns that were an expansion of the very same principles of the Hollin Hills plan.

A Frank Lloyd Wright house is not a particular type however, he is perhaps most well known by the houses he has done in Wisconsin and Illinois. One of the things they seem to have in common were great overhangs partly because they were in the prairie country of the U.S. and there was not always vegetation to give relief from the sun. The Hollin Hills standard pitch (roof) had a reasonable overhang but they did not have the great sheltering feeling of his (Wright's) earlier houses. Some of the models, one of which I lived in, in Hollin Hills, with absolutely no overhang was a glass box, a sort of eloquent little abstract piece of space, but it gave absolutely no shelter. If you didn't have a good roof dram, the roof filled up and poured over the sides of the glass and you would get all kinds of leaks through the openings of the glass, plus your windows would become a waterfall and a lot of times you would find ice all over the windows of Hollin Hills.

Volume Two, Table of Contents
Snake Hill to Spring Bank Homepage

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