Judging Buildings – Third Church of Christ, 16th and I St, NW

The Post’s Jonathan O’Connell recently wrote an update:

“Builders planning to tear down a concrete church after a years-long feud over the historic value of D.C. buildings are moving forward in earnest after a major local developer bought into the property as a partner.”

The Third Church of Christ is located at 16th and I St, NW and was “ designed by the firm of architect I.M. Pei in 1971 and is one of a limited number of Washington examples of Brutalist architecture”.

More updates when/if demolition takes place.

47 Comment

  • The factual record developed during the protracted litigation on whether the church building could be protected as a historical landmark demonstrated conclusively that the building could not be used functionally as a church. It may be interesting as a sculptural form, but the design contributes absolutely nothing to the urban experience at a busy downtown corner. While an argument could be made that distinctive monstrosities should be retained, if only so future generations can learn what not to do, I think the city will be better off when this building is replaced by something functional. And those who like brutalism can always visit the HUD building on 7 & D SW, which may also be ugly, but at least it’s functional — and it is not going anywhere.

    • jburka

      I’ve always wondered why the church signed off on the plans from Pei’s firm (Pei didn’t actually design the building) in the first place. Everything about that design screams “functionally useless as a prayer space.”

    • I’m not sure where you’re getting that the building isn’t functional as a church. I used to attend services there growing up, and I remember being surprised at how bright and aerie the sanctuary is considering the lack of windows outside. The interior is rather simplistic with fabulously high ceilings, bright natural light which I believe comes through sky lights, and wood/concrete architectural lines that bring your eye skyward. As I recall, only the split-pea-green velvet pews gave the sanctuary a truly dated look. While the outside may standout like a sore thumb, I think the sanctuary really had a simple, heavenly design that fit observers of Christian Science just as gothic, stained glass/oil painting/crucifix filled cathedrals fit Catholic beliefs.

      While I agree that the exterior is pretty gross, and I understand the commercial value of the property, I for one will be sad to see this building demolished.

      • Seriously, I encourage all of you haters to go check out the inside of the church. It’s a great example of “function over form” design. Go in and check it out.

  • “… one of a limited number of Washington examples of Brutalist architecture”

    Umm… our whole subway system is brutalist architecture.

    • Concrete does not = Brutalist. Our subway system is Post-Modern in style. Historic reference to coffered domes and all that…

      • Please change the reference in Wikipedia stating that the Metro subway stations have aspects of brutalist design then.

      • The DC subway is a brutalist pile of crap with a ronald mcdonald color scheme. It has all the imagination and beauty of a concrete slab. Just because it was built after “modernity” does not give it a pass.

        • the “ronald mcdonald” color scheme, logo, map was originally designed by famed designer Massimo Vignelli

  • Or the Hoover building.

  • or dunbar high school

  • If this was the 3rd Church, how bad were the first two?

  • This thing sucks. Utterly miserable. Can’t believe people were fighting to keep this intact, despite the fact that the church itself wanted it torn down and rebuilt anew

  • Looks like an old silo with the top cut off…

    Knock it down now.

  • Does metro headquarters count as brutalist? It at least resembles it, and is ugly.

  • Nothing will be lost to DC if this building is demolished. a nice plaque can be placed on the new building, “here once stood a giant pillar of concrete. . .”

  • I love this building. It’s so singular in this town. Also, you know it’s just going to get replaced by yet another big glass building that’s Leed Certified (yaaay) but is increasingly turning downtown into a giant chess board of glass and steel crossbeams. You’ve got to keep the ugly buildings too. They add character.

  • fantastic view of this thing outside my office window. i love the liuna building across the street.

  • I kind of like this building actually.

  • Lauinger Library on the Georgetown campus is probably one of the worst Brutalist buildings in DC. I think they are going to totally scrape the front off and add huge glass windows in the future though.

    • Oh man, that library has to go. I hear they’re planning to fix it soon but they can’t repair the years of embarrassment.

  • Every time I pass this church I’m just like, oh my god (no pun intended) this thing is so ugly. I mean, c’mon, do we really want buildings named after the “brutalist” style? That should say enough. So glad it’s being torn down.

  • I think Brutalist buildings are cold, harsh, and generally just outdated and ugly. But I can’t help but think twice before we go knocking something like this down. When this church was built, people were knocking down old rowhouses and stores left and right – buildings that today we can’t believe anyone thought ugly, outdated, and better off gone. In thirty years, will we look back at this building and say it’s a shame that it’s gone? Are we going through an anti-Brutalist fad that we’ll regret?

    • Thank you for making a very good point that has been overlooked by too many people in reference to this structure.

      It’s amusing how polarizing this building seems to be.

    • The line of thought is a good one but think about this. The buildings from periods pre 1940 that are still standing are generally still loved for their human scale, detail, whimsy, proportions, approachability, livability, style, craftsmanship, understanding of classical architectural principals (that are only classical because they have been universally appealing since the Greeks pioneered them). Brutalism destroyed the fabric of cities and urban life. It was the embodiment of fear and hatred. I for one will be glad when it is consigned to the dust bin of history.

  • i like the bells

  • this is a very good point that’s worth really thinking about.

  • D.C. is the real definition of a concrete jungle

    • you need to travel more.
      you could use more cards in your deck.
      dc is a lush, verdant and flourishing paradise compared to most cities around the globe.

  • Ultimately this has nothing to do with freedom of religion or the present unpopularity/underappreciation/misunderstanding of Brutalist architecture. That parcel of land has got to be among the most valuable in all of DC.

  • this building and the building next to it (christian science monitor offices) are very beautiful together, the interplay of forms and densities. one of my favorite buildings in DC. i will miss seeing it.

  • This thing is terrible. I dont care what kind of statement the designers were trying to make or what “style” it claims to be. Its depressing and looks like a soviet chemical storage tower.

  • I hope they replace it with something spectacular, like an office building with a glass exterior and a COSI on the ground floor!

    It is ugly, but maybe it’s Jennifer Grey’s nose of downtown office buildings, the one that gives the street a little character. No, that’s not fair to Jennifer Grey. Just tear it down.

  • leave it to washingtonians (of which I am one) to want to tear down one of the only remaining buildings with character and replace it with more offensive, boring, crappy architecture.

  • One of the most solemn, contemplative, peaceful, spiritual spaces I’ve ever been in. Not surprising the superficial internet generation doesn’t get that.

    • I guess it takes someone from the 70’s destroy everything old and human and replace it with a windowless concrete bunker generation to “get” it.

      If that is the most solemn, contemplative, peaceful, spiritual place you’ve been to then you have a world of wonderful discovery ahead of you

  • Brutalism is garbage and ubiquitous in DC. I believe the reason the style was so popular is that it was cheap. As an avid architecture fan, the less of these buildings the better and the 3rd church of christ is the worst offender a huge eyesore. Historically preservation is very important to me but only when it is used for things worth preserving instead of just everything that’s old. I want to be there to see the wrecking balls crush this place. Sorry I just hate hate hate hate brutalism, can someone tell me why i might be wrong?

    • You might be wrong, because the middle-20th Century version of you hated, hated, hated Victorian-era architecture and bulldozed it by the block.

  • There was talk at one point about tearing down the Old Executive Office Building because people thought it was ugly and didn’t fit in. I’m glad they didn’t prevail. Will future generations be sorry if this is torn down? They might, but then it will be too late.

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