City Paper is not for tourists
The HUD building is a “modern masterwork” (“The Battle for Pep-O-Mint Plaza,” 5/22)? Give me a break.
Other than the novelty of its curved facades, the HUD building offers little to distinguish itself from the mind-numbing mediocrity of most of the federal government architecture in Southwest.
In fact, the HUD building epitomizes the worst features of modern architecture of the 1960s. Designed as a free-standing, isolated object, it figuratively thumbs its nose at the urban context of Washington. For all the street life that the HUD building engenders, it might as well be located in a remote Fairfax office park.
Even the building’s curvature fails to relieve the relentless, dreadful monotony of its elevations. And its curious shape merely results in the useless, barren plaza out front, which GSA is trying so desperately to ameliorate.
Adding insult to injury are the 10-story blank walls at the end of each of the wings, facing onto the street. Pity the poor bureaucrat assigned to an exterior office but denied a window just so that the architect could make a statement.
The building fares no better upon close inspection. Whereas the pilotis do have a certain sculptural quality, ultimately they merely serve to raise the building one story above grade in order to accommodate…a parking lot. How prosaic.
And I won’t even pursue the irony of a thriving African-American community having been demolished in order to make way for a government agency that has failed miserably in its mandate to improve America’s inner cities. Given HUD’s 30-year record of nonachievement, I suppose that it should come as no surprise that the current administration would balk at implementing a design as clever and street-friendly as Schwartz’s.
In short, it seems not to have occurred to McKee that the term “brutalism” was not necessarily meant as a compliment.