Curbed Architecture Critic Alexandra Lange ‘Eavesdrops’ on Metro Design Icons

© Deane Madsen | Gallery Place–Chinatown Metro

In a recent post on Curbed, architecture critic Alexandra Lange dove into the history of the Washington, D.C. Metro (a.k.a. WMATA), finding that its designers envisioned a forward-looking transit system with longstanding appeal. Metro architect Harry Weese and his firm traveled the world studying existing transportation examples, noting details down to the fabric selection of ticket collectors’ uniforms, before returning stateside to design what has become one of D.C.’s most recognizable landmarks. The D.C. Metro system has been celebrated since its 1976 opening for its column-free, Brutalist vaults of concrete, and was the recipient of the AIA 25-Year Award for Architecture in 2014. This spring, D.C. Metro became the focus of controversy discussed elsewhere and on these pages for (in addition to longstanding issues of management, safety, and scheduling) an ill-advised whitewashing of the vaults at its Union Station stop.

One resource Lange studied was a self-published book with a cumbersome title–”For the Glory of Washington: A Chronicle of Events Leading to the Creation of the System-Wide Architectural Concept for the Design of the Washington Metro Stations, December 1965 – November 1967″–by Stanley Allen, who was chairman of Harry Weese Associates at the time. This book chronicles the firm’s deep involvement in the systemwide design of the D.C. Metro system. Lange sifts through accounts of a worldwide subway tour to preliminary sketches to CFA hearings, and links her findings to current stances on infrastructural maintenance across the country:

To honor the people who clean, upgrade, and augment, we have to see transit design as Weese did: distributed across the city, both as a network of connected stations, platforms, and trains, and as a network of connected tasks. Weese and his team identified the problem, but needed the sometimes harsh design critiques of the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), “the only federal commission dedicated to design review and aesthetic excellence,” as it says on its website, to create a solution that spoke to place, operations and maintenance.

Maintenance has long plagued the D.C. Metro system. In response to outcry from the architectural community and preservationists over the Union Station paint job, some Metro riders voiced approval for the painting, citing the need for brighter conditions. But underground white paint can only reflect the light that shines on it, besides which, it is a temporary solution–a $100,000 bandage that will need to be re-applied continuously–when upgrades to William Lam’s lighting design, if budget allowed them, would provide a more permanent fix. Again, Lange:

If WMATA had consulted with the CFA or historians, they might have learned that the concrete, if cleaned, with the lighting maintained as Lam intended, would solve the very brightness problems the paint (three coats, easily soiled) provided a short-term solution for. … The paint offers a momentary ‘Ah!’ but the money would be better spent on soap and replacing the lightbulbs with new LEDs—work less likely to be noticed because it’s maintenance.

The purists among supporters of Brutalism note that the style’s moniker stems from béton brut–or, raw concrete–meaning that the paint not only issues a long-term repainting sentence that WMATA seems incapable of serving, but also detracts from the architectural and stylistic integrity of the D.C. Metro.

Former Washington Post architecture critic Benjamin Forgey raised a similar outcry in 1992 over the repainting of the Farragut North Metro station, comparing the D.C. Metro’s 600-foot-long, public great halls to classical architecture:

Like much of the city’s above-ground architecture–the barrel vaults in, say, John Russel Pope’s National Gallery West Building or Daniel Burnham’s Union Station–it is based upon classical precedents. But in its forthright expression of structure in those bold concrete vaults, it’s also modern–a shadowy, richly textured space of our own time. There’s no mistaking that the color and texture of the concrete contribute greatly to the architectural effect.

Perhaps Forgey gets to the point quicker: Paint applied to the vaults flattens out the texture for which the D.C. Metro stations and other Brutalist buildings are celebrated, and you don’t solve problems (of lighting, concrete deterioration, or any others) by painting over them.

BrutalistDC to host Instagram Takeover for SWBID, Oct. 5

BrutalistDC will take over the Instagram feed of the Southwest Business Improvement District (@SWBID) on Thursday, October 5. Expect a walking tour starting from the Waterfront Metro and ending at the U.S. Department of Energy.

We plan on covering a lot of ground, and hope to make it to the following buildings, most of which are on the Brutalist Washington Map:

  • Waterfront Metro
  • Tiber Island Cooperative & Carrollsburg Square Condominium
  • The View at Waterfront
  • Arena Stage at the Mead Center
  • The Banneker Fountain
  • L’Enfant Plaza
  • The Robert C. Weaver Federal Building (HUD)
  • The Forrestal Building (DOE)

Be sure to follow @SWBID and @BrutalistDC on Instragram to join in.

DocomomoDC to host Rediscovering Brutalism tour

DocomomoDC announced today that it will feature Washington, D.C.’s Brutalist architecture in a walking tour to be held on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. The tour, called “Rediscovering Brutalism,” will begin at the AIA National Headquarters (which was designed by The Architects Collaborative) with a lecture by Michael Kubo, followed by a walking/Metro-riding tour to Dupont Circle. Kubo is co-author of both Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston and the Brutalist Boston Map.

​Details for the tour, courtesy of DocomomoDC, are below:
Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, 1pm to 5pm, rain or shine
Downtown Washington, D.C.

Lecture followed by Walking + Metro Tour with happy hour.

Registration for the tour is through Eventbrite. Tickets cost $35. Students and members of Docomomo, the DC Preservation League, and APT DC receive a discounted admission of $25. Those in attendance will each receive one keepsake copy of the Brutalist Washington Map.



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.

Today on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show: Whitewashing Metro?

This afternoon, WAMU dives into the questionable painting of the Union Station Metro station in Washington, D.C., which was recently coated in a layer of white paint. Local architecture reporter Amanda Kolson Hurley, the recipient of this year’s Sarah Booth Conroy Prize for Architectural Journalism, and Matt Johnson, editor of Greater Greater Washington, will discuss the issue on air today.

Listen here:

#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.

Announcing the Brutalist Washington Map

New map celebrates Washington, D.C.’s Brutalist architecture
Brutalist Washington Map by Blue Crow Media in collaboration with Deane Madsen

Brutalist Washington Map, published by Blue Crow Media
Brutalist Washington Map, published by Blue Crow Media

The rising popularity of Brutalist architecture is being celebrated with the publication today of the Brutalist Washington Map by city guide publisher Blue Crow Media in collaboration with Deane Madsen of Architect Magazine.

The guide features 40 leading examples of Brutalist architecture from the Hirshhorn Museum and the J. Edgar Hoover Building (FBI HQ), Dulles Airport and Georgetown’s Lauinger Library to lesser known buildings like the the Woman’s National Democratic Club Annex, National Presbyterian Church and Reston’s Lake Anne Plaza. Details for each building and metro station, include the location, date and the architect or practice responsible.

Deane Madsen, Associate Editor of Design at Architect Magazine said: “As moreand more examples of classic Brutalism face demolition by neglect, we hope that putting these examples of D.C.’s Brutalist architecture on the map will foster public appreciation that ensures their longevity.”

Brutalism rose to prominence in the mid-1950s, and has its origins in post-war architectural experimentation dealing with new realities of material expense. The style’s forms and ethos evolved out of works by Le Corbusier, who specified béton brut (concrete that is raw or unfinished) in his Unité d’Habitation apartment buildings, the first of which was completed in Marseille in 1952. Architects around the world grew to appreciate the plasticity with which reinforced concrete could be shaped as well as its economical means of construction.

Washington, D.C. experienced comprehensive overhauls in the post-war era, following the Redevelopment Act of 1945. Brutalist architecture proved a fit for government mandates that the new buildings not be identifiable for the agencies they contained, and its economical construction methods proved efficient for structures housing millions of square feet of office space. Architects Nathaniel Owings and I.M. Pei played large roles in master planning efforts surrounding the National Mall, and Harry Weese’s vaulted Metro station design for WMATA was deployed throughout the region starting in 1976.

The Brutalist Washington Map is designed to affirm the value of these buildings and to inspire further consideration of Brutalist architecture today. Priced at $10 USD (£8 GBP) plus shipping, it is available to purchase through Blue Crow’s website, and at the National Building Museum shop in D.C. Two sided, with a map on one side and an introduction to Brutalism and post-war construction in Washington, along with architectural details for each building and photos on the other, it opens to 16.5 inches (420mm) x 23.5 inches (600mm) and folds down to 8.25 inches (210mm) x 6 inches (150mm), and is protected by wide band.

This is the Blue Crow Media’s fourth architecture guide, following Brutalist London Map, Art Deco London Map and Constructivist Moscow Map. Modern Berlin Map will be available in November 2016.

For press enquiries:
Derek Lamberton, Blue Crow Media , +44(0)75 4585 2718

About Blue Crow Media
Blue Crow Media is an award -winning London-based independent publisher of
distinctive city guide maps and apps. Brutalist Washington Map is Blue Crow
Media’s 14th folding map guide and second dedicated to Brutalist architecture.
Brutalist Boston Map will be published in 2017.
w: ; i: @bluecrowmaps ; t: @bluecrowmedia

About Deane Madsen
Deane Madsen is the associate editor of design at Architect Magazine. Based in
Washington, D.C., Madsen started @BrutalistDC as a way of celebrating the
capital city’s collection of Brutalist gems, which add texture to corridors of
all-glass lobbyist headquarters. Madsen earned a Master of Architecture degree
from UCLA before altering course to an architecture adjacent career writing about
what makes buildings work.
i: @deane_madsen ; t: @deane_madsen

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

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.

Marcel Breuer’s Reston API Building Under Threat

The wrecking ball nearly swung early for a lesser-known work by Marcel Breuer situated in Reston, Va. So far, the motion has been stayed, but Reston planning officials meet on July 26 to discuss the building’s future. An ongoing “Save the API Building” petition, which is still soliciting signatures, allows you to voice your support for the building.

© BrutalistDC - Marcel Breuer's American Press Institute, Reston, Va.
© BrutalistDC – Marcel Breuer’s American Press Institute, Reston, Va.

Here at BrutalistDC, we’re suckers for some bona fide Brutalism, and Marcel Breuer provided many striking examples of the style during his long architectural career. In Washington, D.C., Breuer was responsible for two massive government offices: the Department of Health and Human Services Hubert H. Humphrey Building, and the Department of housing and Urban Design Robert C. Weaver Federal Building.

© BrutalistDC - Marcel Breuer's American Press Institute, Reston, Va.
© BrutalistDC – Marcel Breuer’s American Press Institute, Reston, Va.

On a more diminutive scale, and a little bit of a trek outside of D.C. proper (but still within reach of the Metro system via the Wiehle-Reston East Station on the Silver Line), Breuer designed the American Press Institute in 1972, and it was completed in 1974. The two story, 25,000-square-foot API Building served as a headquarters for journalist training until the API merged with the Newspaper Association of America and vacated the Breuer building in 2012.

© BrutalistDC - Marcel Breuer's American Press Institute, Reston, Va.
© BrutalistDC – Marcel Breuer’s American Press Institute, Reston, Va.

The API Building has been empty ever since, and had fallen off the radar until housing developer Sekas submitted an application for rezoning of the property on which the API Building sits, claiming that there were “no known heritage resources” on the property, according to a report by Karen Goff for Reston Now.

Recent Press on the API Building compiled at