When our family moved to Northern Virginia in 2001, we bought a house in Lorton near the former District of Columbia prison. The sprawling facility, which includes what is now the Workhouse Arts Center, is finally being redeveloped as part of the adaptive reuse trend that is turning early 20th century structures into housing and businesses.
For more than a decade, however, much of the 2,300-acre prison site remained as is, having been purchased from the federal government by Fairfax County. It wasn’t until 2014 that the Board of Supervisors approved a business plan to redevelop the site as a mixed-use community, and construction on Liberty Crest at Laurel Hill did not begin until early 2016.
Today, the former prison buildings have been repurposed as apartments and office space, with plans for more retail in the other buildings. Construction has been ongoing now for three years, with a number of single-family homes being added as well.
For several years, I was a member of the associate artists group at the Workhouse Arts Center, which itself was a separate piece of the prison. The Workhouse, which opened in 2004, was the first piece of the redevelopment that now includes three schools, a cross-country trail and golf course.
On a cold, rainy morning in 2016, I was given an opportunity to roam much of the main prison site, which had just started to be redeveloped, with my camera. I was struck by how much had been left untouched for almost 15 years. Today, only remnants of what I saw that day remain on a site that has become a model for adaptive reuse.