In a former professional life, this City Desk contributor worked in the bowels of the old U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters building at 7th and D streets SW. The Nassif Building, as it was called, had dismal interior spaces with removable walls that made the office building in the 1985 film Brazil seem cheery.
But its exterior, with its narrow vertical window wall clad in bright white stone, was an amazing physical structure to approach every morning, especially coming up on Metrorail escalators that spit you out in the middle of the equally impressive courtyard, with a fountain in the middle. The building was designed by Edward Durell Stone, the architect better known for designing the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the National Geographic headquarters at 17th & M streets NW.
Over the years, critics have not been kind to Stone. His main appeal these days seems to be as an icon of a certain historic era in architecture. A couple years ago, some New Yorkers—including Tom Wolfe—were up in arms a couple years ago when Stone’s No. 2 Columbus Circle “lollypop” building was being “reskinned” in ways that fundamentally altered its historic appearance. But in D.C., Stone’s Nassif Building near L’Enfant Plaza has met a similar fate with barely anyone raising a fuss.
The renovated Nassif Building became the generic-sounding Constitution Center, and the exterior narrow and vertical window wall was replaced with glass starting in 2007. (D.C. developers love glass!) And as the Washington Business Journal reported Wednesday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has signed a lease for 900,000 square feet worth of space in the empty building.
The Constitution Center’s history page notes the building was designed by “noted architect” Edward Durell Stone. But with the building’s exterior so fundamentally changed, why even bother to mention Stone’s name anymore?