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Until recently, as I wrote in this week’s issue, Crystal City has been a very monochromatic place: The color brown, the material concrete. Finally, with the departure of the Defense Department, there’s enough vacancy that some buildings can be taken out of service entirely, and either recycled or rebuilt from the ground up. That leaves the question: What should the reinvented city look like?

Notably, the new buildings will likely all be a lot taller, since adding height pays for the cost of redevelopment (and even helps offset the cost of creating more green space, as Vornado will do with one building that’s slated for demolition and conversion into a central park). And they’re supposed to have active ground floors, in most zones.

Vornado takes a lot of pride in the 24-story building above, which will replace the one now housing Artomatic. It’s designed byPickard Chilton, whose principal Jon Pickard is most famous for the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. The extra altitude allows them to step back some of the floors, creating an interesting height variation, with a cantilevered canopy. Hopeful, as glassy office blocks go!

Not everything, however, will be so flashy. Lowe Enterprises is rehabbing another building at 1400 Crystal Drive, and was a little more cautious with the design: A glass curtain wall, but no fancy roof structure; LEED gold, but not LEED platinum.

“We did not want to go too far, because we’re in this transition,” says Lowe senior vice president Harmar Thompson. “Our tenant base can be everything from a big defense contractor to a private sector financial service type firm…A defense contractor that does a lot of business with the government has to justify how they spend their money. If they’re in trophy office space downtown, that probably raises some eyebrows. I think you have to be careful about not over-improving the property.”

He draws a contrast with Monday Property’s plans for the region’s new tallest building in Rosslyn, which will be quite the icon, and is looking for glitzy corporate tenants. “That’s not where we’re wanting to go,” Thompson says. “We want our price point to be attractive to a wide range.”

Because of the new occupants it’s targeting, Crystal City may stay modest. Anything, however, would be an improvement.

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