NEWSMAKERS /DEBBIE BURNS – A week of architecture


Debbie Burns, executive director of the American Institute of Architects Northern Virginia Chapter says half jokingly, every week is architecture week. But this time, its official, as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) celebrates its National Architecture Week with events in Old Town and throughout the region.

At her Old Town office on South Patrick St., Burns is surrounded by eighteenth and nineteenth colonial structures rich in architectural integrity and history, which is apt, because she was trained as an architectural historian. In a seemingly constantly developing area, meshing the ancient gems with new designs is one of Alexandrias greatest architectural challenges, but one that the city has done well, according to Burns.

I think its a nice cohesive seaport town, Burns said. I think the city has done a great job integrating new design into the historic part of Alexandria. The newer buildings havent been allowed to overpower the historic buildings, and thats not always true for other areas.

As an architectural historian, Burns is no doubt a preservationist, but she also knows you cant stop future development from happening. With the ever-changing urban landscape, Burns says that old structures should not necessarily bow to new designs.

I strongly believe in preserving old buildings, Burns said. And I strongly believe that they have to be saved not just as a faade tacked into some huge office building although that can be successful in certain areas where you really dont want infill. There are other areas where infill is absolutely wonderful, and it creates a vibrant community.

Each case is so individualized. You have to be really careful, you have to be really creative and you have to get someone who knows what theyre doing to do it.

Burns has been busy with Architecture Week, which includes tours, exhibits lectures and their more popular Canstruction competition, in which teams of architects compete to build fantastic structures from canned foods, which will be donated to the Arlington Food Assistance Center.

Burns said the event, which goes until midnight at the Ballston Common Mall, is a party atmosphere for a good cause. There have been some toppled exhibits in the past (A team once attempted to build an upright iPod, but its design was flawed, causing the structure to collapse on itself. They had to settle for a design a little lower to the ground.), but designs are generally sound and interesting, she said.

Old Town is a meaty terrain for architectural enthusiasts, and its streets, homes and churches will be part of a walking tour, led by architects that do historic work in the area. The Cromley Lofts, a 1910 restored warehouse on Queen Street, will hilight the tour, which leaves from the Lyceum. The first LEED-certified condo in Virginia, the Cromley Lofts earned the Gold ranking from the United States Green Building Council. Burns said going green is beginning to define the designs of both contemporary architecture and hundred year-old structures like the Cromley Lofts.

Everyones always talking sustainable or green architecture, Burns said. Thats going to have an impact, and I think thats really been brought to the forefront in the publics eye. There really is nothing more sustainable and green than using an existing building.