Last week marked the beginning of the end for the Third Church of Christ, Scientist at 16th and I streets NW, better known to the public as “D.C.’s ugliest church.” The 1970 structure had few fans (least of all its own congregation, which fought the building’s designation as a historic landmark in 1991 and applied for a demolition permit in 2007), but its destruction marks the loss of one of the city’s more prominent examples of Brutalism. If a Brutalist church isn’t sacred, what is? A survey of some of D.C.’s most brutal buildings reveals a mixed future for the style.
Gelman Library at George Washington University 2130 H St. NW Completed: 1973 Brutalist cred: Concrete façade, vertical windows divided by concrete slabs Bonus brutality: Described in a 2012 Yelp review as “the perfect place to die.” Conservation status: Not threatened. A year of construction and renovation, completed in August 2013, resulted in more natural light, more outlets, and more technology-enabled study rooms.
L’Enfant Plaza Southwest D.C. Completed: 1968 Brutalist cred: Concrete, fortresslike Bonus brutality: Even I.M. Pei, the designer of the space, hated the plaza’s Forrestal Building. Conservation status: Vulnerable. Though hailed as a masterpiece when built, L’Enfant Plaza has for decades drawn scorn from critics and urbanists alike. In 2013, 10 developers responded to a request by the federal government for information about transforming the area; the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel is under new ownership and due for a major overhaul.
The Metro Completed: First line in 1976 Brutalist cred: Exposed concrete, repetitive design motifs Bonus brutality: Delays and escalator outages inspire daily Twitter lashings. Conservation status: Not threatened. The American Institute of Architects recently announced that it would grant Metro its Twenty-Five Year Award for “an architectural design of enduring significance” that “has stood the test of time by embodying architectural excellence for 25 to 35 years.”
J. Edgar Hoover Building 935 Pennsylvania Ave. NW Completed: 1975 Brutalist cred: Cast-in-place concrete, bronze-tinted windows Bonus brutality: Named after J. Edgar Hoover Conservation status: Critically endangered. Though the design initially drew praise, critics quickly soured on the building, which also struggles with structural decay. The Government Accountability Office proposed demolition as one option for dealing with the thing.
Lauinger Library at Georgetown University 3700 O St. NW Completed: 1970 Brutalist cred: Designed as a concrete Brutalist interpretation of the adjacent Flemish Romanesque Healy Hall Bonus brutality: A shocking lack of electrical outlets Conservation status: Not threatened (barring a student uprising). The university’s 2010-2020 campus plan only promises an addition to the library, not a demolition.
Third Church of Christ, Scientist by Darrow Montgomery
Metro photo by Darrow Montgomery
Gelman Library photo by Flickr user pasa47. CC 2.0 Attribution
Hoover Building photo by Flickr user cliff1066TM. CC 2.0 Attribution