Preserving Maryland’s COMSAT Building

COMSAT Building

When it opened in 1969, the COMSAT building located along I-270 in Clarksburg was at the cutting edge of modern architecture. Designed by renowned architect CÚsar Pelli, the futuristic lines of the building’s exterior was inspired by aircraft design and its distictive glass and aluminum facade remains striking today. The interior spaces of the building were designed for the original tenant, a satellite research company, and include large windowless spaces and wide hallways specially designed for assembling and moving satellites. The building’s entrance features a huge cylindrical structure used to display satellites. COMSAT’s research in the building resulted in hundreds of patents in telecommunications technology and the company was eventually purchased by Lockheed Martin.

COMSAT BuildingIn 2005, the building’s owner announced they planned to demolish the structure to make way for a new dense, multi-use development. Since the announcement preservationists have mobilized to save the structure. University of Maryland professors Isabelle Gournay and Mary Corbin Sies examined the structure’s historic significance in a study titled “Modern Movement in Maryland.” This June, the building’s architect Pelli (whose other designs include Malaysia’s Petronas Twin Towers) told the Washington Post “I would like to do everything I can to save this building … It’s like saving one of my babies. I have a great attachment to my designs.” Now 79 years old, Pelli attended attended a design charrette hosted by Montgomery Preservation Inc. where teams competed to generate designs that would both preserve the COMSAT building and allow development on the site. The Montgomery County Council is considering a proposal that would designate the building and a portion of the surrounding land historic therby preventing demolition.

Building owner LCOR Inc. remains skeptical of preservation plans but has made no major announcements regarding the building since 2005. Company Vice President Mike Smith told the Washington Times in June it would be very expensive to reconfigure the existing building for offices or other uses, but the company was open to discussions about “what compromises could be made” regarding their plans for the site.

> Preservation Online: “Early Cesar Pelli Building Threatened with Demolition
> W. Post: “Architect Pelli Joins Effort To Save Comsat Building
> W. Times: “Comsat: Renew or raze?
> Preservation Maryland Phoenix: “Modernist Masterpiece in Peril” (PDF)
> Montgomery Gazette letter from County Preservation Committee Chair

Photos:
> COMSAT Legacy Foundation building photo gallery
> Flickr Photo
> Washington Post photo

Photos courtesy COMSAT Legacy Foundation

Author: Rob Goodspeed

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