American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2008 Professional Awards
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Site Analysis Sketch. (Image: MVLA)
Concept Sketch - An early design sketch illustrates the connections between building and landscapes. The garden terrace reaches up into the building and creates an outdoor central commons that reflects the interior space.(Image: MVLA)
Bird's Eye View - View from Gannett Corporation Tower towards the USA Today building includes the 2nd and 4th floor green roof terraces over the news rooms below. The two buildings frame a green commons terraces to direct rainwater through a series of runnels and step pools connecting to the riparian forebay of regional stormwater pond beyond.(Photo: Timothy Hursley)
Wall and Runnel System - Sloped and terraced garden walls were constructed with the same stone as the base of the building to physically link them to the gardens.(Photo: MVLA)
Runnel Detail - Recirculated water from the pond is oxygenated and cleansed as it drops through planted pools at wall gaps.(Photo: MVLA)
Riparian Plantings - Riparian plants sweep up from the stormwater management pond into the central terrace, following the runnel and pool systems.(Photo: MVLA)
Roof Terrace Plan and Section - Climbers on steel trellises create vertical gardens which extended above the next level, reaching in towards the structure to create a new canopy at the terraced edge. (Image: MVLA)
Roof Terrace - Lush rooftop planting brings the landscape into the building both visually and experientially. Seven accessible rooftop gardens are a vital part of the public gathering spaces of the building complex.(Photo: MVLA)


Gannett/USA Today Headquarters, McLean, Virginia
Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, Ltd., Alexandria, Virginia
client: Gannett, Inc.

"A new approach to corporate typology that feels more natural and organic. The landscape architect tells a story about the site, integrating the existing stormwater system and creating interplay with the green roof, a rich palette of trees at varying levels, and other amenities."

— 2008 Professional Awards Jury Comments

PROJECT STATEMENT: The Gannett/USA Today Headquarters is an ecologically diverse refuge in the rapidly developing business and retail center of Tysons Corner, Virginia. The landscape architect developed a site strategy that seamlessly weaves the indoor and outdoor spaces into a campus of extensive roof gardens and terraces, riparian plantings and preserved woodlands. This project demonstrates the exceptional value of thoughtful site design and site repair for the creation of a distinctive corporate campus.

PROJECT NARRATIVE: Gannett/USA Today is located at the confluence of the 270-acre Jones Branch watershed in the Tyson’s Corner area of McLean, Virginia. The site is a 25-acre parcel bounded on the east by the intersection of the Capital Beltway and the Dulles Access Road and to the west by Jones Branch Drive. The landscape architect’s responsibilities included siting the building complex and all aspects of the site and landscape design.

The undeveloped site was composed of three distinct land features: lowland, meadow and hilltop. Located at the base of the 270-acre watershed, the lowland contained a degraded regional storm water management pond serving a quadrant of Tyson’s Corner. The meadow had been used as a fill site for adjacent development. The hilltop stood out as a beautiful prospect covered with a stand of mature oaks.

During the preliminary design phase, the client wanted to place the building and related site development at the highest elevation on the hilltop to generate a prominent corporate visual landmark and offer views to Washington, DC. After a thorough site analysis, sun studies, and programming the landscape architect convinced the client, with the support of the architect, to move the building site from the healthy wooded hilltop to the meadow/fill site. This fundamental shift in site strategy marked the beginning of a comprehensive change in the attitude toward site development.

Instead of a single iconic building on the hilltop, the building program was divided into two flanking buildings that shaped a central commons. The central commons forms the armature of the open space allowing the wooded hilltop to be preserved as a visual and recreational amenity. The southeast siting allows the commons to open to the sun while shielding northern winter winds and highway noise.

Above the commons, two acres of green roofs and garden terraces over structure provide employees with immediate access to outdoor spaces at mid-level connections. The roof gardens reduce rainwater runoff and add insulation and sound attenuation to the broad floor plates of the news rooms below.

Pedestrian and water movement through the site emphasize an engagement with the topography through a series of runnels and terraced gardens. This framework is conceptually derived from the naturally occurring pattern of fallen logs on a forested slope offering eddy spaces in the landscape. This concept is developed with angled stone walls that terrace the topography of the commons and direct rainwater through riparian step pools connecting to the forebay and regional storm water management pond. These walls form distinctive lawn and planting areas along with runnels, pools, niches and slotted stair passages linking intimate spaces that look out to the pond and the wooded hilltop beyond. Recirculated water from the pond is oxygenated and cleansed as it drops through planted pools at wall gaps. Constructed with the same stone as the building base, these walls create a textural link between building and landscape.

The planting plan complements and extends the wooded hilltop out into the lower meadow landscape and turns the stormwater management pond into a wildlife refuge. The landscape architect chose a broad range of native trees and shrubs for their wildlife value. Trees and understory plants associated with moist soils and riparian conditions, such as Tulip Poplars, Blackgums, Willow Oaks, and Sweetbay Magnolias, sweep up into the commons providing shade and shelter. Drifts of ferns, pickerel weed and cattails are planted in the runnels and pools, while climbing plants such as Boston Ivy and Virginia Creeper soften and green the terrace wall facades.

In the fast-paced development of the Tysons Corner commercial center, this project demonstrates an integrated collaboration between the design team and owner resulting in a model project that weaves site structure, open space, planting and architecture together into a coherent whole. It creates a unique working environment, shaped by the design goals of site repair and sustainability. The project is a welcome example of the value of thoughtful landscape stewardship and the important role of well-shaped, meaningful outdoor places in a corporate setting.


Landscape Architect:
Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, Ltd.

Kohn Pedersen Fox

Development Manager:

Landscape Contractor:
The Davey Tree Experts

Irrigation Consultant:
Lynch & Associates, Ltd.

Fountain Mechanical Consultant:
Aqua Engineering, Inc.

Additional Credits:
Carderock stone, Tri-State Stone and Building Supply
Grasspave System, fire lanes
Fiber optics, Fiberstars
Lighting, Bega
Coldspring Granite
Paving, Hanover pavers, Tudor series
Specimen trees from Halka Nurseries

Stone Walls: Tri-State Stone & Building Supply, Inc.

Lighting: BEGA

Fiber Optic Lighting: Fiberstars

Fountain Mechanics: Aqua Engineering, Inc.

Furniture: Country Casual

Granite: Cold Spring Granite

Grass Rings: GrassPave2

Irrigation (sprinkler heads, valves, controllers): Rain Bird Corporation

Irrigation (drip tubing and fittings): Netafim USA

Pavers: Hanover Architectural Products

Specimen Trees: Halka Nurseries, Inc.

Trash Receptacles: Victor Stanley, Inc.



Riparian Planting - Riparian plantings of the forebay at the stormwater pond provide water quality improvements and wildlife habitat support.(Photo: MVLA)
View Towards Buildings - The walls and planting step up from the stormwater pond to the central garden continuing into the building common areas and roof terraces weaving architecture and landscape into a resonant whole.(Photo: MVLA)
Planting Composition - Slotted stair passages link the intimate spaces that look out to the pond and the wooded hilltop beyond. Tree planting complements and extends from the hilltop into the lower meadow landscapes.(Photo: MVLA)
Ginko Path - The ginkos golden fall color contrasts with the bluestone path that frames the central terraced garden.(Photo: MVLA)
View of the Pool - A triangular aquatic pool is located at the intersection of the first floor lobbies, which forms the visual center and focal point for both the interior and exterior of the building. The water level of the pool is set at the same elevation as the first floor so that the interior space seems to extend out into the landscape beyond.(Photo: MVLA)
Lotus Pool - Stainless steel bubblers mirror the tensile rods of the interior.(Photo: MVLA)
Tennis Court/Parking - Recreation was a central consideration in the design development. The steep slope between the Gannett building and the adjoining property to the west allowed most of the parking to be shielded without extensive excavation which also accommodating tennis courts above.(Photo: MVLA)
(Image: MVLA)
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