When considering the new Meadwestvaco headquarters along the Richmond riverfront, several hugely important positives come to mind. The fact that a large company relocated to the Richmond area is, in and of itself, an achievement. The decision to reject the suburbanity of Innsbrook or Short Pump in favor of downtown was also a crucial one. Architecture in the modern idiom is a final accolade for the project. When compared with the prospect of another sprawling postmodern development on the city’s outskirts it seems almost miraculous.
Aesthetically, there are some issues with the building. The materials are jumbled and the form is bizarre, neither relating to its site or the surrounding city particularly well. The roofline provides some intrigue to the skyline but this is largely outweighed by the over intensity of its lighting at night. While a view from the river showcases the building’s high quality glazing system, the transitions between the building’s facades leave it somewhere short of sleek. Let us cast aside the architect’s stylistic choices for a moment and focus on the building’s urban performance.
When the building was proposed, concerns arose about its relationship to the city streets themselves. Over the years, the destruction of a large part of urban Richmond to make way for our shameful Downtown Expressway and the subsequent development along the downtown riverfront has rendered this strip of segregated land little more than a glorified office park. Though it is the first step in a supposedly mixed use development in the area, the MeadWestVaco Headquarters has done little to help rectify the area’s issues.
Whether or not one likes the building’s outward appearance, the complex objectively fails to address the surrounding streets properly. The building is placed on the landscape haphazardly, rendering two square blocks with no options for public engagement through retail, residential, or cultural space. MeadWestVaco reinforces the problems south of the expressway and fails to be forward thinking, anticipating a time in which people will not only work there, but live there.