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With reference to Bradford McKee’s very interesting and provocative article “Washington Goes to Mr. Gehry” (12/10/99):

As architects of the 1987 addition to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, we believe it might be useful to clarify the discussion of our design (Pages 34-35). We were asked by the trustees to design a rental-office-building addition to the original gallery and school building that would respect and merge with the existing structure. The trustees’ intent was to provide sufficient cash flow from the rental space to offset the Corcoran’s operating deficit. When the office-rental market collapsed just as the project was ready to start, it was shelved.

Although the school administration space was to be moved to the addition, it was never intended to be a museum building or an art school. The present school addition is a change in program. Could our design for an office building have been adjusted to serve as the school of art? Of course it could have—by adjusting or removing floors. We were never asked to study this accommodation.

McKee is correct when he says our design wasn’t sexy. It wasn’t intended to be sexy. Office-building additions to major public monuments such as the Corcoran, in our opinion, probably shouldn’t be sexy. They should defer to the more important existing building, not upstage it.

But there is another issue McKee doesn’t really delve into. Our addition was intended to extend the original building as the original architect might have—the same approach as that of Charles A. Platt before us. This is an approach that was more the rule than the exception until the modern movement came along and declared “modern” architecture the only valid style or approach for a new building or an addition.

One had hoped this exclusionary approach had receded, but when one hears Gehry quoted as saying a referential addition to a historic building is “fundamentally dishonest,” he is falling back, as McKee points out, on this bit of “professional wisdom.” “Modern-movement doctrine” might be another way of putting it. Is it possible that there is a certain amount of defensiveness in Gehry’s rather aggressive posture on this issue?

Hartman-Cox Architects