February 5, 2011 Charles Goodman, Hollin Hills Virginia

Charles Goodman: Hollin Hills In His Own Words

I came across an interesting piece about Hollin Hills from 1983. Written by then-Washington Post architecture critic Benjamin Forgey, it looks at the groundbreaking community by builder Robert Davenport and architect Charles Goodman before mid-century modernism was cool again. As part of the piece marking the neighborhood’s 30th anniversary, Forgey interviewed Goodman, who discussed his design philosphy for the community south of Alexandria. Here are some excerpts:

On the hilly topography that other builders, and lenders, were nervous about:

“‘It was the sort of land every builder would turn down,’ Goodman recalls, ‘but I felt it would make for ideal country living for urban people, and Bob Davenport did, too.'”

Davenport and Goodman did not get rid of the hills of Hollin Hills.

On his on-site pre-fab techniques:

“”The whole method was to break everything down to a system that would simplify construction and still give you great freedom of design,’ Goodman says. The results were relatively inexpensive starter homes–the initial model sold for $12,500 in 1949. Families flocked to them.”

“Goodman provided several basic designs that could be combined or altered, to a degree. The flat-roofed single-level house, with its ingenious floor plan (living, sleeping and eating spaces surrounding a central service core) and its stylistic relationship to Mies and Mondrian, was, [Goodman] says, ‘as far as I thought I could go’ in the direction of hard-edged Modernism.'”

On the siting and landscaping:

“The most innovative aspect of Hollin Hills was the siting of the houses and the overall landscape plan. It was this, more than anything else, that disturbed the county regulators and the federal housing authorities. Trees were preserved, grading was kept to a minimum, and the houses were set into their one-third or one-half acre lots at angles for maximum privacy. All those rounded cul-de-sacs, Goodman explains, were ‘to slow down traffic and give the children places to play.'”

“‘At the same time,’ [Goodman] continues, ‘I was thinking about what to do after you have designed the houses and built them and people have bought them, to make the units part of a whole.’ His farsighted solution, eagerly embraced by builder and buyers alike, was to hire a landscape architect (Bernard Voigt and, later, Eric Paepcke and the renowned Dan Kiley) and to sell a landscape plan–initially it cost $60 and was non-negotiable–with each plot.”

An example of the lush landscape and how the houses were built into the topography.

On expanding and changing original houses:

“Another notable facet of the Hollin Hills homes was their built-in capacity for expansion, something many residents took advantage of as their families grew–to greater, or lesser, architectural effect. Some residents complain about the ineffectiveness of the community’s architectural review board. Goodman’s attitude is ‘Anything they do can’t hurt it. These houses were designed to be living things.'”