Discovery will be centerpiece of downtown Silver Spring
Feb. 23, 2000
Office will create 'healthy balance' between businesses
by Theodore Kim
The Gazette Staff Writer
Discovery Communications' preliminary office plans reveal the new building
will, no doubt, alter downtown Silver Spring.
Last week, the global media firm took a huge leap toward breaking ground
for its new $150 million headquarters. The company, currently based in
Bethesda, sent a preliminary building layout to the county's Park and
Planning Department, thus paving the way for construction to begin later
The Discovery site plan, a separate detailed look at the building floor by
floor, will be released within weeks, officials said.
The relocation of Discovery to Silver Spring has long been hailed as the
key component in the city's half-billion-dollar redevelopment efforts.
Exterior designs for the new office further reflect the company's
willingness and intent on becoming the centerpiece of Silver Spring. The
building will sit in the grassy triangular plot adjacent to the Silver
Spring Metro station.
"Overall, the [Discovery] design looks good," said County Executive
Douglas M. Duncan. "It's a different look, and it provides a lot of open
space in the area. ... And I think there will be a healthy balance between
small businesses and the larger ones that we are building now."
The 490,000-square-foot complex is L-shaped, comprising a nine-story wing
on Colesville Road, and a six-story wing on Georgia Avenue. The building
will be surrounded by large shady trees, according to the plans.
More than 1,600 employees are expected to work in the building, which is
designed to hold 2,000 workers.
Discovery officials said they ruled out a massive skyscraper design in
favor of a more "natural" look with lots of open space.
The highlight of the building is a 350-foot steel spire topped by a sphere
near the intersection of Wayne and Georgia avenues.
The steeple, dubbed Discovery Tower, would be nearly twice as tall as any
structure in Silver Spring, including the 187-foot-tall science complex
that houses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on
The tower would not have an observation deck, and the sphere design on top
may eventually be changed, officials said.
The spire will sit in the middle of a public space called Discovery Plaza.
The plaza will serve as the main entrance to the building.
The structure also will feature a public garden -- dubbed Discovery Garden
-- facing Wayne Avenue.
Furthermore, the complex, by design, will not house a cafeteria,
compelling hungry employees to explore nearby restaurants, delis and
Meanwhile, engineers have attempted to allay traffic concerns in their
preliminary plans, since the streets around the building site are
notoriously congested at rush hour.
A three-level parking garage that will hold almost 800 cars will be built
underneath the office. Both Wayne Avenue and Colesville Road will have
entrances to the garage.
In addition, engineers are banking heavily on a newly renovated $40
million Silver Spring Transit Center across Wayne Avenue to help commuters
traveling to the area.
The transit complex, slated for completion in 2003, will feature real-time
schedules, and act as a nexus for buses, the Metrorail subway, Maryland
commuter rail, taxis and a shuttle to the University of Maryland, College
A pedestrian bridge stretching from Discovery to the transit center over
Wayne Avenue will be built, officials said.
As for the preliminary designs, Park and Planning authorities must first
approve them in a three-month public hearing process before construction
Larry Ponsford, a senior county planner at the Maryland-National Capital
Park and Planning Commission, said the process of approving the plans has
"There are still a lot of things to do," Ponsford said. "It's a challenge
when you're dealing with a building of this size. But we're up to it."