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In a vibrant year for the arts, the buildings that house them also are noted for architectural achievements.

New Life for Old Buildings

If flux is a measure of a community's economic and cultural vitality, then Richmond is on a roll. In almost every neighborhood and county, 2000 delivered not only positive architectural and physical changes, but sometimes intense and serious discussions about urban revitalization, historic preservation and suburban growth. But it was the educational, museum and performing-arts realms that made the biggest design splashes. In no particular order, here are highlights of the year architecturally. It was a banner year for Richmond's two glorious, world-class former railroad stations, Broad Street Station (on West Broad near Robinson Street) and the Main Street Station (in Shockoe Bottom). Since the mid-1970s, when Broad Street Station was rescued from demolition and found new use as the Science Museum of Virginia, the John Russell Pope-designed 1919 building has been undergoing constant renovation and reworking. In October, with well-deserved, celebratory ado, the renovation was completed. Wisely, the client and architect did not erase reminders of the building's railroad days. But they were also not shy about adapting the building for its current public use. And after a cleaning, its exterior exudes a powerful architectural presence unequalled in the area. Also this autumn, with Gov. Jim Gilmore and four former governors looking on, a ceremonial kickoff was held to mark the turning of the Main Street train station (designed in 1901 by the Philadelphia firm of Wilson, Harris and Richards) into, well, a passenger train station again. While development for the past decade swirled around this landmark — state office complexes, new apartments, shops, restaurants and a revived 17th Street Farmer's Market, this historic anchor remained the missing link of the district's revitalization. It's a costly and complex project, but this building promises to be a showcase when completed. From a purely design standpoint, the year's high mark has to be the new Children's Museum on Broad near Robinson (immediately west of the Science Museum). With its upturned, technicolored, canopy, which floats above the brick and glass, pavilionlike building, the museum is delicate. But this delicacy is tempered by a quasi-industrial attitude that melds well with such nearby commercial buildings as the Interbake Foods factory and even a neighboring McDonald's. Another Richmond cultural institution that hit the high road architecturally was the Richmond Ballet. On Canal near Fifth Street downtown, the company carved out a handsome new studio facility from a former Reynolds Metals warehouse. Bond Comet +Westmoreland was the architect. Undeterred by existing heavy concrete supports and beams, the designers popped up the roof to add a strikingly jarring, but not unpleasant instant landmark. Also downtown — especially on Broad and Grace, Richmond developers continued to turn long-vacant, above-the-store spaces into unique living quarters. And on East Main Street below Church Hill, while the proud old Superior Building was spared destruction for a grocery store, it was a hollow victory. The developers plan to build a store in the block to the west, thereby destroying an entire block of pre-Civil War buildings not protected by the boundaries of a historic district. One step forward and two steps back. Central Virginia's counties continue to ask tough questions, about how to develop former farmland and whether or not sprawl should be contained. Just last week, the Chesterfield County Planning Commission nixed developers' plans to build more than 950 homes in the southwestern part of the county. And in Chesterfield, planners also gave the thumbs up this year to establishing some form of public transportation in this fast-growing county. This is good news. Transportation is key to how our communities grow, and, in turn, how they function and look. Ultimately, how Richmond deals with the pressures of population growth will determine whether we maintain our status as a special American place or become something more frustratingly

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