Originally I was gonna do a feature called “D.C.’s Worst Buildings.” I asked Julian Hunt, a former lecturer in architectural criticism at Catholic, to show me around a few. He was worried, though, that such an approach would contribute to what he called, in an e-mail to me, “the generalized ignorance or architectural design and the predominance of a philistine, anti-intellectual attitude to new work.” Instead, he suggested, we should look at some bad buildings AND some good ones. Sounds great!
I’ll take a stab at summarizing Hunt’s overall critique of D.C. architecture: our buildings are islands. D.C.’s near-incoherent pileup of jurisdictions, plus its lack of a vote, plus its fealty to the federal government have all resulted in a cityscape with very few instinctive connections.
Hunt lived in Barcelona for a decade and was inspired by how well that city’s planning office communicated with its architects. The result, he says, is a city where people move freely. A city most unlike the District. The planning office here, he says, “is quite good.” But the imperatives of historical preservation, intensified by a feeling of always being besieged by the feds, have not been good for architecture here.
We met at a Starbucks just off Thomas Circle. I figured he’d suggested that spot so he could unload on the building. But actually he thinks this installation outside of it is an “excellent small scale” piece of urban art. Apparently it plays theremin-like music, too.