Saturday, February 23, 2008

Third Church of Christ, Scientist

Third Church of Christ, Scientist--an example of Brutalism architecture

Located on the northwest corner of 16th and Eye Streets NW is the Third Church of Christ, Scientist (900 16th Street NW)--just three blocks north of the White House. The church was designed by Araldo Cossutta, an architect in the renowned firm of I.M. Pei and is an example of Brutalism architecture--a movement in the 1950s and 1960s that called for the use of rough concrete as the building medium. Across the plaza from the church is a Christian Science Reading Room.

For many years now, the congregants of Third Church have petitioned to tear down what they consider an architectural eyesore and put up a church more fitting of the historical downtown setting in which they are located. Unfortunately, incomprehensively, and against the protests of the church and congregation, in 2007 the D.C. Historic Preservation Board voted 7 - 0 to grant the building landmark status. As a result, the building cannot be torn down or altered.

Needless to say, the architecture is incongruous with many of the buildings in the area--both historic and modern minimalist. It has occasionally been referred to as an apocryphal, doomsday fallout shelter or an electrical substation. That aside, the church is part of the coalition of churches called the Downtown Cluster of Congregations--a collaborative coalition of congregations throughout Washington working on social issues.

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 2/08

13 comments:

Fénix - Bostonscapes said...

And some people still find those monstrosities appealing... I featured a couple of them, our current City Hall, hated by 110% of the locals, and a very crazy looking mental hospital. Yep.

They make good bunkers, though. >8{

NG said...

I love that building. I hope they never change it.

Lara said...

this is a fierce debate: architecture, religion... still, the building looks too spooky for a church...

D.C. Confidential said...

Fenix: I remember seeing city hall when I was in Boston a few years ago and thinking "Are you kidding me?!" The guy who was my handler that day was a native Bostonian and he said the same thing you did. Everyone hates it. I could see why and I would, too. And that mental hospital?! Yikes! Ick. If I worked there, I'd eventually have to be admitted because it would depress the hell out of me. I'm going to have to go downtown again in the next few days and take a picture of the National FBI HQ building. It's totally Brutalism. Yuck!


NG: Well, you know what they say about beauty! I remember the first time I saw it, I thought, "What is that?" I've tried to like it, but it just isn't sticking for me. Still, it's good to know the building has devotees.


Lara: Amen! There's a church in Houston, Texas, called The Rothko Chapel that was built to feature the art of Mark Rothko. I'm sure the intent was to build it to the glory of God, but it's become sort of a shrine to Rothko instead.

Bobbie said...

Somehow this building makes me think of Stalin and Russia and the KBG. Brutalism is a perfect name for it. Yuck. Not to my liking. It's too...too...well, too brutal, you know.

The Artful Eye said...

This building does not look like a place of worship, more like a detention center.

Is this close to the Renwick or the Corcoran?

D.C. Confidential said...

Bobbie: It is harsh architecture, isn't it? (And I didn't know it had a name. I just thought it was Ugly.)

AE: It does have sort of a detention center feel, doesn't it? I think I'm going to have to visit this church again and see what the inside looks like. Wouldn't it be great if, behind this absolutely stark and horrible facade, a gem was hiding inside?

As for the Corcoran and the Renwick: the Corcoran is at 17th and E Streets, which is right at the end of Pennsylvania across from the old Executive Office Building or the West Wing side of the White House. The Renwick is at the corner of 17th and Pennsylvania, also across the street from the EOB. So, yeah, they're all in the vicinity of each other.

Fénix - Bostonscapes said...

Oh, yeah, the FBI HQ is something else... But at least, in that case, the architecture kind of goes with the theme... >8@

D.C. Confidential said...

Fenix: The awful part about Brutalism is, if it isn't doesn't right and the concrete isn't cured properly, it starts to break up and slough off. Then you end up with exposed rebar and patches and it looks even worse. That's what's happening at the FBI and it's just an eyesore.

Lisa Sarsfield said...

Hmm....why do I have the song 'all things bright and beautiful' stuck in my head now? Doh! It is neither though I would agree with the desicion to keep it. The history being worth more than vanity...that said I would also strongly oppose anyone who propsed building anything else like it! It is ugly and challenges our perception of what a church looks like. I am sure you will show us more! Looking forward to the FBI building!

Anonymous said...

This is a confusing building: it is ugly and certainly 'brutal', incongruous too; but then, that could be said of the whole of Washington DC. And indeed the USA. I can't recall having seen a US building that 'fits' - and I'm not sure I can imagine what that would be like if I did. A teepee, perhaps? Surely a survey of DC's architecture must make you ask what the near-extermination of the injuns accomplished.

D.C. Confidential / Janet Kincaid said...

Anon: The Third Church of Christ Scientist is certainly ugly and incongruous, but I'm not sure I'd toss the whole of D.C. architecture in the same category. Some of the older buildings have very classical lines that lend some gravitas this capital and player on the world's stage. Now, if we're talking contemporary/modern architecture, I'd have to agree with you for the most part.

Mike Licht said...

Praise the Lord! The city will allow demolition of this dysfunctional eyesore.

See:


http://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2009/05/13/dc-oks-demolition-of-brutalist-church/