June 22, 2009 Brutalist, I.M. Pei, Preservation

Summer Reading: Larry Van Dyne’s ‘Tear It Down! Save It!’

If you are looking for something to read on the beach this summer, take a look at this fascinating 10,000-word Washingtonian article by Larry Van Dyne on the history of Washington preservation efforts, including the growing debate over what to do with modern structures built during the past 50 years.

“The conflict over the [Third Church of Christ] has brought to the fore a broader issue that will be played out in Washington over the next decade: Of the thousands of modernist buildings built from the 1940s through the 1970s, which ones have the architectural distinction or other significance to merit protection?” Van Dyne asks. “Are some of these structures, often not that attractive or lovable, worth saving as a reminder of their time? Are works by I.M. Pei, Edward Durell Stone, or Chloethiel Woodard Smith as important as the work of John Russell Pope or Adolf Cluss? Is Brutalism worthy of the same respect as Beaux Arts? …

“The dilemma will arise on the buildings between the iconic and the crappy, buildings that may be judged important by architects or historians but ordinary or ugly by nonexperts. Most of these structures are approaching middle age—50 years is the customary point when they are first up for historic designation—and they house some well-known government agencies and private institutions.”