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Greenbelt’s Historic Architecture and Co-op Rules

posted in: History, Home and Garden

International Style homes in Greenbelt Maryland

When people first buy a home in Old Greenbelt’s housing coop (GHI), they become members (not owners), and begin to learn what living in co-ops means, especially if they’re historically significant co-ops like ours.

So for reference by new and older members, here’s a brief summary of the significant features of GHI homes and the rules that respect and protect them. Hopefully this will explain the importance of stylistic details and why the rules about them aren’t arbitrary (as they may seem), but sensible when looking at the big picture.

On the Simple Lines in GHI Architecture

speed lines on brick homes in GreenbeltGHI’s original homes were built in the International Style, which emphasized lack of ornament, simple geometric forms and the emphasis on horizontal, without the curves used in the more decorative Art Deco and Art Moderne styles that were used in Roosevelt Center.

Ornamentation on our homes is limited to horizontal bands of raised brick at the corners—sometimes called speed lines— that add visual interest at minimal cost. According to draft Historic District Design guidelines, these are the most readily identifiable decorative element of the architecture of Greenbelt. They’re found on block and brick units.

Style Conveys Values

Characteristic simplicity not only defines the “look” of our homes but also the values and ideals embodied in the Utopian concept of Greenbelt – especially inclusiveness and egalitarianism. Not all residents can afford fancy ornamentation.


Simple Windows and Doors

fancy door styles

For example, members may prefer more ornate windows and doors like these, but they’re out of synch with the architecture and values of Old Greenbelt. Simple, affordable styles are the rule. No curves, no diagonals. As a result, details complement the architecture, and visual harmony throughout the community.

Simple Trellises/Lattices

Similarly, the use of diagonals and curves on amenities like lattices conflict with the style of Old Greenbelt’s homes and as of May 2019 are no longer allowed. (Diagonal lattices already in place are “grandfathered” as long as they’re in good condition.) Click here for help finding lattices/trellis with vertical and horizontal lines.

examples of horizontal and vertical lattice

There is visual harmony within rows and the whole community when square lattices like these are used instead.

Preserving Style Elements Is the Least We Can Do

Members sometimes ask how they can personalize their individual units. Options for members include: painting doors any color at all, applying siding, hanging things on the exterior walls, and landscaping.

Adding onto our homes is probably the change that members make with the greatest impact on the appearance of their row and the community. So it’s good to know that GHI is the very rare townhouse development that allows any additions at all. Greenbelt’s predecessor planned city of Radburn, NJ, for example, allows porches to be enclosed but no additions that expand the home’s footprint. (See and learn more about Radburn here.)

So when it comes to adaptations that allow members to remain in their homes and enjoy them fully, GHI rules are unusually generous, especially given its historic significance. Its rules about style, on the other hand, have little effect on members yet go a long way toward respecting and preserving this very special community. ,

Other historically significant neighborhoods (Capitol Hill, Georgetown, et cetera) are much more restrictive.

Click to learn more about the homes of Greenbelt Homes Inc.

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com.

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