New Headquarters to Stand Out
By Steve Twomey and Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 15, 2000; Page B07
A 350-foot steel tower, visible for miles and capped by a spherical symbol, would be the signature feature of Discovery Communications Inc.'s new L-shaped international headquarters in Silver Spring, according to preliminary architectural drawings and documents the company filed yesterday with Montgomery County.
The tower, which would be the tallest structure in Silver Spring, would mark both the center of Discovery's global operations and the heart of the surrounding downtown, said Dom Fioravanti, the company executive overseeing the media giant's move from Bethesda to a 3.4-acre site at Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road. © 2000 The Washington Post Company
Designed by the SmithGroup, the firm that designed MCI Center and the National Postal Museum, the $150 million complex would include a six-story wing on Georgia Avenue and a nine-story wing on Colesville Road, a small gift shop and space for "temporary and permanent exhibits from the Discovery inventory of award-winning creations."
The tower, without an observation deck, would rise at the end of the six-story wing, in a public space to be called Discovery Plaza that would be the main entrance to the complex. Between the wings would be a large garden, also open to the public.
"I do believe this building will become an attraction, because it's so different from what's around it," Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said, adding that the amount of public space "is more than required" and reflects Discovery's interest in nature.
One of the largest providers of cable television programming, Discovery anticipates that 1,600 employees will work in its Silver Spring headquarters, overseeing the operation of 12 channels in the United States, including the Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel and Animal Planet. Those employees are now scattered among six leased facilities in downtown Bethesda.
Discovery's decision to move to Silver Spring has been hailed by county officials as the capstone to their efforts to resuscitate the suburb's downtown. Those efforts have also been aided by the American Film Institute's decision to expand its East Coast operations from the Kennedy Center to Silver Spring's long-shuttered Silver Theater, where it expects to screen hundreds of films a year.
David King, president of the SmithGroup and chief architect of Discovery's planned complex, said the company wanted a headquarters that reflected the world's diversity. That led to the choice not of a single large building but of a complex that had varying shapes, heights and building materials, King said, "just as one would travel the globe and find a variety of cultures."
The steel tower will be open-sided in some parts and enclosed in others. Although the architectural drawings filed yesterday show a globelike sphere atop the tower, the final shape will be "probably much more abstract," King said, but still symbolize Discovery's interest in the world.
As expected, the headquarters will not have a cafeteria, only a small sandwich shop, because Discovery wants employees to eat their meals in the surrounding downtown as part of the effort to revitalize Silver Spring.
Duncan said the design posed no zoning problems.
Construction is expected to begin in the fall and finish by 2002.
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