Being situated in one of the nation’s wealthiest suburbs isn’t always a good thing. In fact, for George Mason University, it became a problem. As the school grew to become the largest public university in Virginia, Fairfax County’s notoriously steep housing costs made it difficult to attract junior faculty and staff to the area.
Which explains the genesis of Masonvale. Offering a welcome alternative to a long commute, this new pocket community provides workforce housing for young professors within walking distance of the campus. Its 157 Energy Star–rated rental units—a mix of one- and two-bedroom stacked flats, two- and three-bedroom townhomes, and duplexes—are on fixed term leases so they can be used as an ongoing recruitment tool.
Built around two existing riparian corridors, the 27-acre village is divided into two hamlets, each with its own distinct architectural vocabulary (one is Colonial; the other, Craftsman). A cost-efficient, chassis-style building program allowed the design team to conserve on framing, while spending a little more on memory points, such as chunky porch columns, exposed rafter tails, and four-sided brick quoining on corner buildings facing greens and other public spaces. “Those were conscious decisions to spend money in the right way,” says architect Murphy Antoine, a principal with Torti Gallas and Partners. “But where we really saved was in the density and the smaller square footage of the units themselves. We sacrificed a little bit of living room space to get a tighter community feel and to encourage people to go out and be part of the campus culture.”