Revitalization at Penrose Square

By:  Jeffrey Levine

Penrose Square is located in Arlington off 9th Road south right at the heart of the Columbia Pike Revitalization District. There have been several new mixed-used evelopments along the Pike, but Penrose Square is the first to incorporate a town square, a communal public space.  Being built in two phases, the completed first portion is a 17,760-sq. ft. parcel which represents the eastern half of the square.  Phase II is 15,000 sq. ft. and will be coordinated with the redevelopment of the Fillmore Shopping Center site. 

Established in 1801, Columbia Turnpike was chosen by Congress as a key connector between the newly-formed District of Columbia and outlying destinaitons to the south eventually stretching to the junction with Little River Turnpike in Annandale. 

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony to celebrate the Revitalization of Penrose Sq. in Arlington, VA It became home to many businesses throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and haven to discerning family enterprises. Within the last 50 years, there has been a major influx of new residents from many nations living and working along the Pike, adding a rich layer of culture and traditions, much like Annandale.

In the late 1990’s Columbia Pike Initiative Plan encouraged the revitalization focus on commercial and neighborhood hubs. Thus the Pike is being transformed from a linear transportation corridor, into a walkable main street with emphasis on three new hubs to define a sense of place and community. The redevelopment of the Penrose Square block at 2500 Columbia Pike, is the first of these three projects. The new, recently completed development, owned by B.M. Smith & Associates, includes 300 new market-rate apartments, townhouses and new retail space.  It includes a Giant grocery store, which originally existed on the site, an interior parking garage, three new restaurants and a wide range of retail establishments.  This mix represents the highly desirable development of extra retail and residential space the corridor has needed.

The developers are proud of their main design features and credit them with much of the project’s success.  At the heart is the centrally located paved plaza, the low seating walls, the interactive water fountain, the two mounded lawn areas that provide casual seating, and the custom retaining walls that provide privacy as well as sound dampening.

However, the center piece of Penrose Square is the sculpture Echo by Richard Deutsch. The concept makes reference to the Arlington Radio Station from which the first transatlantic radio-transmitted phone-call was placed in 1915. This two-piece sculpture is the first ever public art to be dedicated in the Columbia Pike corridor.  Hopefully, it will not be the last.

The form and materials of the six and seven story buildings have been designed to conform to the new Arlington County Form Based Code.  Rather than regulate the use and density of a project, this code looks at form and the character of new buildings, in order that they fit within the surrounding environment.  Thus the design of Penrose Square respects the context of the adjacent structures with brick, limestone and stucco facades; sensitively proportioned windows; and, at the west side of the site, the buildings incorporate residential townhouse units that compliment the surrounding residential development.  In order to make the construction economically feasible within the fire safety constraints of the Building Code, the four upper residential floors are metal stud frame construction and the lower commercial floors are a more expensive concrete frame.

There is tremendous variety here with a selection of over 50 residential floor plans. The apartment units are all-electric and have Energy Star appliances.  Four interior courtyards are located within the complex, one incorporating a swimming pool.  Seniors and the disabled have not been forgotten with accessible units located on every floor.  There is also a large sun-filled meeting room or lounge with sweeping views of the square.  It is used for gatherings of residents as well as local area groups.

The design of Penrose was developed by a 12-member citizen working group appointed by the Arlington County Board of Supervisors.  The working group, together with the landscape architectural firm, Oculus, envisioned a space that would draw the community together to socialize, dine, relax or recreate.

First and foremost, the success of this project is due to strong county and community participation.  In Arlington as in Fairfax County, developers and citizens can not succeed without strong county participation and support.  Additionally, credit must be given to:

  • Good design and planning
    • Using the Form Based Code
    • Incorporating needed facilities such as people-friendly urban spaces with an emphasis on walkability and convenience
    • Successful implementation in the construction, administration and financing

      Annandale, in the planning of its future Central Business District, should seriously study Penrose Square.  It provides an excellent example with features that can be emulated.  In fact, many of these features, including the use of a Form Based Code, are reflected in the Annandale Demonstration Project which can be reviewed on this website or in

The ENDEAVOR News Magazine.



Photographs on this page were taken by the author.  For more Revitalization News & Issues in Annandale.

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