“Originally seen to reflect the democratic attributes of a powerful civic expression – authenticity, honesty, directness, strength – the forceful nature of Brutalist aesthetics eventually came to signify precisely the opposite: hostility, coldness, inhumanity. [...] Separated from its original context and reduced in meaning, Brutalism became an all-too-easy pejorative, a term that suggests these buildings were designed with bad intentions.” - “BRUTAL”/“HEROIC” by Michael Kubo, Chris Grimley and Mark Pasnik
Brutalism, an architectural movement that peaked in the 1960′s, inspired the development of countless governmental buildings in Washington DC as well as across the world. Though Brutalism’s original intentions may have been good, many believe that the actual manifestation of these buildings was not and consider them to be little more than an eyesore on the District’s landscape. One such concrete structure, the FBI’s J. Hoover Building, is currently facing possible redevelopment as the government has decided to relocate FBI headquarters and given the private sector the rare opportunity to transform this so-called “monolith” into a new kind of monument.
More on the Hoover Building after the break…
Gregory Hoss, a partner at David M. Schwarz Architects, writes: “Instead of a monolith that has no connection to the cityscape, no rapport with people in and around it, and no relationship to its place on that grandest of all American boulevards, Pennsylvania Avenue, we can exercise an almost unheard-of prerogative to create something worthy of respect for generations to come.”
This is the vision that Hoss and other designers and developers have for the site of the Hoover Building – to create something “vital, vibrant and economically satisfying,” now that the General Services Administration and the District have stepped aside and put the building’s future into the public’s hands. It is indeed a unique chance to take a very large and complex building and re-imagine it into something new and worthy of its important location.
Hoss warns, however, that we must be careful to not design a building that meets or barely exceeds contemporary norms. As an example, he sites the repetitive glass and steel structures that have popped up along DC’s K Street within the past 10 years, all indistinguishable from each other and all equally uninspiring. He also explains that designers and developers will have to face challenges with the building’s enormous size and its re-integration into the existing neighborhood fabric, taking care to re-establish dozens of obliterated retail outlets. This would create a truly multi-functional and well-integrated space where people could live, work and be entertained.
But what does this mean for the futures of other Brutalist buildings? Will the development of the Hoover Building create a new trend of remodeling the Brutalist buildings of the world? And how can we be so sure that Brutalism is an invaluable movement that should be erased entirely?
References: The Washington Post