DC Brutalism in WaPo Magazine: Crushing on Concrete

The May 28, 2017 edition of the Washington Post Magazine features a 10-page feature on D.C.’s Brutalist architecture. Cover art by Peter Chadwick/This Brutal House

In the smashing cover story of the Washington Post Magazine last weekend, Washington, D.C.-based architecture critic Amanda Kolson Hurley makes the case for local Brutalism. Hurley’s 10-page feature, entitled “Crushing on Concrete,” boasts a cover illustration by Peter Chadwick, author of This Brutal World, and includes striking black-and-white photographs by Astrid Riecken.

Hurley’s story begins with a recap of the recent Union Station kerfuffle, “Paintgate,” wherein WMATA whitewashed Harry Weese’s vaults (and faced subsequent backlash), before delving into a primer on the history of Brutalist architecture. Michael Kubo, co-author of Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, was interviewed for the article:

There’s this kind of weird valley in which people either love or hate the buildings. I definitely feel like brutalism is in exactly that zone.–Michael Kubo

Despite the losses of some Brutalist buildings Washington, D.C. (namely, Araldo Cossutta’s Third Church of Christ, Scientist, and Marcel Breuer’s American Press Institute), Hurley argues, there have been a few Brutalist triumphs, such as Boston City Hall and U. Mass. Dartmouth’s Claire T. Carney Library by Paul Rudolph. Hurley also exposes the renewal in Brutalism’s popularity, citing the blog F— Yeah, Brutalism, maps by Blue Crow Media, and even our Walk With Locals x Hirshhorn collaboration for last year’s World Architecture Day.

Washington’s impressive catalogue of Brutalist buildings, however, means that the preservation battles are only just beginning. Many of the structures that face greatest peril are those that have aged enough to be in disrepair, yet aren’t quite old enough to have been designated as landmarks. As Hurley puts it, “In Washington … brutalism’s ubiquity means we will have many chances to decide whether it is worth saving.” One notable case in point is the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building, which tops many a list of “Ugliest Buildings in D.C.” for its impenetrable massiveness. Its future is a story to which we’ll be paying close attention as it develops.

Read the full story at The Washington Post

For further reading, pick up these Brutalist titles:


 

Update: Not all of the readers of the WaPo article are concrete lovers, and maybe that’s not news. One particularly scathing comment on the article: “Any chance we get to remove a polyp of this soul-crushing, dismal, ugly architecturally worthless concrete crap from our beautiful city, we should take. It is joyless, ugly and represents all that is sick about sick buildings.” Couldn’t disagree more, chum! 

FBI Building on ArtNet

The fabulously #brutal J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building #brutalistdc #blueskyandbrutalism

A post shared by Brutalist Architecture in DC (@brutalistdc) on

As a follow up to Blake Gopnik’s New York Times piece, Growing Up in a Concrete Masterpiece, he wrote another for ArtNet that includes a photo from the BrutalistDC feed. The ArtNet article, Smash the FBI Building and Stonehenge Will Be Next, discusses the historicity of buildings and artworks. The J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building is particularly reviled amongst the majority of D.C. dwellers, and its uncertain future is faltering now that the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) has approved a plan amendment for the Pennsylvania Avenue squares currently occupied by the FBI Building.

Gopnik argues that the FBI Building represents an era and a way of thinking that have value beyond that of the building itself: “We need to save the buildings on our city streets that stand for who we were. Demolishing the FBI building would be like tearing up a childhood snapshot because we don’t like the clothes we were wearing in it.”

Atlas Obscura x BrutalistDC – May 6!

BrutalistDC will host an architectural tour of L’Enfant Plaza with Atlas Obscura, the definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders, on Saturday, May 6. We’re thrilled to bring you an in-depth look at one of the major clusters of Brutalist buildings in the nation’s capital.

Attendees will follow along with a copy of the Brutalist Washington Map, which is included in the price of tickets. More information is available through Atlas Obscura’s listing of the event.

#BrutalistDC in Conversation: The Kojo Nnamdi Show

BrutalistDC on the Kojo Nnamdi Show

BrutalistDC founder Deane Madsen was a guest on WAMU 88.5’s Kojo Nnamdi Show with architect, professor, and writer Roger Lewis for a discussion about Brutalism in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

The triumphant headline of an Oct. 6 article in the New York Times Magazine proclaimed that “Brutalism is Back.” With the fate of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building not yet determined, and several other examples of D.C.’s Brutalist architecture threatened or facing renewal, host Kojo Nnamdi asked Lewis and Madsen to share opinions on Brutalism, to dive into histories of the origins and definitions of the style, and to weigh in on issues of ethics versus aesthetics. The question of aesthetics, as Lewis pointed out, rests largely in the eye of the beholder, but it’s a conversation well worth having.

Listen to the full discussion on Brutalism in D.C. via The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5.

World Architecture Day x WalkWithLocals x Hirshhorn

World Architecture Day at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was a smashing success! Many thanks to Hilary-Morgan Watt and Allison Peck from the Hirshhorn and to Carl Maynard of WalkWithLocals for hosting, and thank you to all the 200+ folks who showed up to hear dubious comparisons between strawberry purée as doughnut filling and crushed “Swenson” pink granite as concrete aggregate.

Hirshhorn Celebrates World Architecture Day Oct. 3 With Free Donuts and @BrutalistDC Architecture Tour

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

The Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.’s “Brutalist Donut,” has announced a World Architecture Day celebration set for October 3, 2016, with locally-made donuts and architecture tours. BrutalistDC founder Deane Madsen has been invited to lead an architectural tour in collaboration with @WalkWithLocals, a Washington, D.C.-based photography meetup group that regularly hosts photography walks in and around the capital city.

Read the full release from the Hirshhorn below:

September 20, 2016—Visitors are invited to the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Monday, Oct. 3, to celebrate #WorldArchitectureDay by enjoying “Donuts with the ‘Brutalist Donut’”—a day of complimentary donuts and free architecture tours of its iconic circular building.

Tours by experts, including the Atlantic’s Kriston Capps and Architect’s Deane Madsen, will reveal the genius of the Hirshhorn’s unique spaces and how the museum’s rebellious, modern style changed ideas of design. Then, visitors can enjoy a delicious Hirshhorn-inspired donut from Zombie Coffee and Donuts, created especially for this day (while supplies last).

A new special session, ARTLAB+ Storytime at 10 a.m., invites the museum’s youngest visitors ages birth to preschool, to enjoy a read-aloud of the children’s book Iggy Peck Architect and a hands-on building activity. Nursing moms and strollers are welcome.

Affectionately nicknamed the “Brutalist donut,” the Gordon Bunshaft-designed Hirshhorn, the Smithsonian’s museum of modern art, is one of the most celebrated examples of the Brutalist architectural style that flourished during the 1950s–1970s. Other well-known local Brutalist landmarks include Washington’s Metro stations and the J. Edgar Hoover (FBI) Building.

10 a.m. tour: ARTLAB+ Storytime for young visitors birth to preschool and their caregivers

Noon tour: Critic Kriston Capps (@kristoncapps) writes for the Atlantic’s CityLab on art, architecture and the shape of cities today. The public can join online via FacebookLive at facebook.com/thisiscitylab.

3:30 p.m. tour: Gallery-guide tour of architecture-inspired artwork in the Hirshhorn’s collection.

6 p.m. tourDeane Madsen (@deane_madsen) is the associate editor of Architect magazine and runs @brutalistDC, an Instagram celebration of the District’s concrete masterpieces.