May 14, 2009

"Preservationists say the building... is a classic example of Brutalist architecture that should be maintained for future generations."

It's the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, in Washington, D.C., a couple blocks from the White House.


(Photo by kimberlyfaye.)

Should we preserve historically significant ugliness? Because we need negative examples, to know what to avoid? For contrast? Because history matters? Even the 1970s?

But the church won in the end:
"Historic preservation was never meant to be more important than the very people or purposes that buildings were meant to serve... This 1970s Brutalist-designed building ... would have bankrupted this congregation and forced it out of downtown where it had been for 100 years. That makes no sense."
Sense! Should we make sense? How much more of history, art, and architecture would be lost to us now if we'd been making sense all these millennia?

Are you more convinced by the "make sense" argument — this place is bankrupting them — or by the passionate desire to demolish what is indisputably ugly?

Do you not worry that perhaps it is not ugly, not permanently ugly, and you are blinded by the aesthetics of our time? I remember, after graduating from art school in 1973, feeling quite sure the ornamentation on buildings like this was a hideous mistake and our cities needed to be stripped clean of it. Thank God I was powerless.

99 comments:

Patrick said...

Thank God that everyone graduates from art school powerless.. ;)

chickenlittle said...

The UW-Madison humanities building is also pretty fugly.

Rockeye said...

I kinda like it myself. A clean utilitarianism. Architecture doesn't always have to be Herman Melville, sometimes it can be a three-line poem. Unless you don't like the aesthetics of bare concrete. Then Brutalism is the artistic equivalent of frozen dog turds. BTW, for those who are Madisonites I've always loved the old IBM building off the Beltline. I believe it is now used by some insurance firm.

former law student said...

Holy Howard Roark, Althouse!

That's actually a fairly attractive sample of the genre, which includes various Metropolitan Correctional Centers, and the Circle campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as a host of parking garages ("ramps" for those north of the Ill. state line).

bearing said...

It's definitely not architecture I would choose for a church -- what were they thinking?! -- but I find myself sort of oddly struck by it. Especially the unconventional belfry.

I don't think I see it as ugly. There is a certain balance-imbalance interplay that intrigues me

But then, I have always thought of "intriguing" as a particular kind of beauty.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Charmed as I am by the very idea of a Brutalist church, I'm most impressed by the fact the the people who want to tear it down are the ones who actually, you know, own it.

PatHMV said...

When in doubt, I want to err on the side of protecting property rights over the rights of those who want to play with other people's property without paying for the privilege.

Allen Garvin said...

There was an NPR feature about this a couple years ago. The lighting is so strange that they have to build scaffolding to change certain light bulbs, at a cost of thousands of dollars. They only change them every few years, waiting for a sufficient number to burn out first, until it gets unbearably dim.

FortWorthGuy said...

Do you realize how many famous, well known and seemingly intelligent people were horrified at the thought and then the actual construction of the Eiffel Tower?

Jason (the commenter) said...

It's does have its charms. But seeing a picture and walking around it are two different things.

You don't even want to walk near a building like that. You get dizzy looking up at it, and the expanse of blank wall at the base-- scary!

It's not like they can't easily reproduce such a structure. It's just a bunch of box-shaped cement with very few windows. If it makes you feel better, people somewhere will always be trying to build buildings as cheaply as possible.

Maybe they could build things like a tea cozy, but for buildings? That way the history could be preserved, but neighborhoods wont be blighted by architecture that was designed without thought to human needs.

Jason (the commenter) said...

FortWorthGuy,

There's a world of difference between something you've grown to love and something you've grown to hate.

Paddy O. said...

I'm a little confused.

How is razing a building and building a brand new building a cost-saving measure that will help them avoid bankruptcy?

I'm not in real estate nor construction, but my impression is that keeping a building is less expensive than building a new one.

Oh... now I see. The office building isn't for them to use, they'll build the building, get the rents, and contribute to their community with revenue-generated endeavors.

On the aesthetics, I think there's certainly a place for the ugly, though I don't think this building is as much ugly as coolly, efficiently, scientifically bland. Fittingly maybe could be added to that.

Indeed sparse and bare was the hallmark of the protestant reformation, who wanted to do away with the outward ornamentation as a way of emphasizing more numinous beauty.

Ugly is a contrast a what we don't want or want to be, departing from the ideal in a way that reveals even more clearly the nuances of the ideal and the beautiful. Ugly helps us to understand beauty in its contrast.

But this building, this church, isn't that. It's just there. No show. So tear it down. Make marks upon a blank slate.

To be replaced by what? A revenue-generating office building that has space for the church?

Brutalism is replaced by consumerism. Maybe they should wait a few more decades for a more substantive aesthetic.

Will the church have to pay taxes on revenue-generating office space?

Bissage said...

That building looks like the head of a giant space robot. What if the rest of it is buried underground? Just imagine how pissed off it’s going to get when they start pounding on it with a wrecking ball.

Giant Space Robot Voice: BRAAAAAAAAAGH!!!

[pulls robot-self out of giant Earth crater in slow-motion]

MUST. DESTROY. CITY.

MUST. DESTROY. CITY.

MUST. DESTROY. CITY.

[mad panic ensues like millions of people fleeing Godzilla]

former law student said...

I want to err on the side of protecting property rights over the rights of those who want to play with other people's property without paying for the privilege.But wouldn't a conservative holding this view believe in punishing those whose bad judgment enabled this to be built?

And wouldn't a libertarian holding this view want to punish those who took a valuable downtown lot off the property tax rolls for years, only to develop it now when it suits their purpose?

Balfegor said...

Re: former law student:

That's actually a fairly attractive sample of the genre, which includes various Metropolitan Correctional Centers, and the Circle campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as a host of parking garages ("ramps" for those north of the Ill. state line).

True, it's not exactly sanity sapping, which is more than can be said of a lot of Brutalist architecture. On the other hand, as our President might say, that's like the "special olympics" of architectural aesthetics.

Re: Paul Zrimsek:

Charmed as I am by the very idea of a Brutalist church, I'm most impressed by the fact the the people who want to tear it down are the ones who actually, you know, own it.

Well, this is usually the case, isn't it? When Penn Station was destroyed and reduced to its present rat-warren state, it wasn't like a hord of visigoths came in and laid siege to it. The owners had it levelled and built some sort of modern abortion over its corpse.

Re: Althouse:

Are you more convinced by the "make sense" argument — this place is bankrupting them — or by the passionate desire to demolish what is indisputably ugly?

Mmm. Passionate desire to demolish what is indisputably ugly.

Do you not worry that perhaps it is not ugly, not permanently ugly, and you are blinded by the aesthetics of our time?Well, sure -- if the Nazis take over, it will fit in wonderfully with the Flakturme and the rest of Welthauptstadt Germania. Well, maybe not wonderfully -- the Flakturme are actually rather more attractive than this monstrosity -- but in a sea of brutal, inhuman concrete structures, actual Brutalism will more or less fit in. The Soviets were pretty good at the whole stripped-down concrete block thing too. So if we really liked that Soviet aesthetic, that would work too. Really, it works fine with any sort of dystopian society. And some people do like the boot stamping on the human face forever, I suppose.

Paul Zrimsek said...

The owners had it levelled and built some sort of modern abortion over its corpse.Yep. You don't like it, become the owner yourself. Or get enough people together to persuade the city to buy it and become the owner.

I can't imagine where you get the idea that conservatives are interested in punishing other people's taste in architecture, or libertarians in maximizing property tax revenues.

Richard Fagin said...

Should "we" preserve anything in particular? I thought that's why we have a presumably free market, representative government and a takings clause (however emasculated after Kelo) in our constitution. If the preservationists like the building so much they can offer to buy it. Seller doesn't want to sell for a price they can afford, tough luck. Convince the government to buy it at a price the seller wants and keep it as a monument? Ok by me, even if I think the building is an ugly POS and should be blown to bits. Use eminent domain to do the same thing, maybe, if the building will be used for a public purpose.

Unless one of the above principles is being trashed, there really isn't a problem.

TosaGuy said...

I am a historic preservation professional.

50 years old is the general rule (exceptions are permitted) for a building to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. This rule is in place because it takes around that long for a sense of historical and architectural perspective. Local Hx Pres Commissions can set their own criteria, but the NRHP is a general model for their standards. All architectural styles go though what Brutalism is going through -- wild swings between appreciation and derision, which is why the 50 year rule is in place.

Cities evolve or die. Not everything is worth protecting and some things that are worth protecting are not saved. Historic preservation can be its own worst enemy. It can be used to enhance a city by preserving buildings that provide the city with a sense of its historic identity or it can be used to freeze a city in time and deny it the ability to evolve.

Successful preservationists assist the building owner in either mitigating the problems of the building, finding a new use for the structure or finding an owner who wants the building. Simply saying "Don't tear this down because we say so" may save one building but that tactic will lose much civic good-will and political capital, which often causes the destruction of ten other buildings.

Jen said...

There was a very interesting article in the NYT about preserving Wardenclyffe, Nicola Tesla's lab in Shoreham, NY.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/05/science/05tesla.html

There is not much there, some say the building is ugly too (although I don't think so).

Should it be demolished because the company that owns the land is experiencing economic hardship? Should it go to the highest bidder? Or should there be some preservation of sites like this one because of their historic importance?

Richard Dolan said...

"Do you not worry that perhaps it is not ugly, not permanently ugly, and you are blinded by the aesthetics of our time?"

It's not so much a worry as a certainty. But the larger difficulty with these designations of "historically significant" buildings is the profligacy with which the designations are issued.

NYC has more "historically significant" buildings than Rome, at least according to the worthies here who issue these diktats. Yet NYC is what it is because it's constantly changing, updating, new-new-NEW. The urge to freeze-frame that process, to put large swaths of the urban landscape off-limits in the interest of preserving arguably interesting examples of the last wave's idea of "significant architecture," can kill what makes American cities interesting.

I'm all for preserving exceptional iccns of architectural Americana. (Ann's link to GC Station does double duty, makig that point as well as exemplifying the 'worry' quote above.) But this little building in DC doesn't remotely reach the level of the iconic, and truth be told, "brutalist" architecture wasn't all that interesting or significant to begin with. Here as elsewhere the gov't should be slow to impose a bureaucratic solution to a non-problem. If it doesn't, we'll get the usual bureaucratic result -- as gov't sanctioned aesthetic of leveled-down mediocrity, mostly.

Synova said...

IMO, the ugliness might be worth preserving, but if the upkeep is outrageous then it doesn't deserve to be kept. (I feel the same way about Loyd Weber Wright or whatever the heck his name is... if his roofs leak, then he *failed*.)

Synova said...

"But wouldn't a conservative holding this view believe in punishing those whose bad judgment enabled this to be built?"

Only according to your prejudice.

It's never about punishment. Not ever. That's a liberal thing "punished with a baby"... etc.

former law student said...

Libertarians don't mind paying more than their share of property taxes to let churches escape taxes completely, because they provide some unquantifiable benefit to the community? Churches consume their share of community services: streetlights, roads, police and fire protection, etc., without reimbursement.

Redeveloping one's church as an office building strikes me as [strikethrough]outrageous[/strikethrough]brilliant.

The other was a little joke about conservatives' belief in individual responsibility, and accepting the consequences of one's actions.

Synova said...

"And wouldn't a libertarian holding this view want to punish those who took a valuable downtown lot off the property tax rolls for years, only to develop it now when it suits their purpose?"

Now that's just weird.

I have to believe that you don't understand conservatives or libertarians AT ALL.

Synova said...

Accepting the consequences, FLS, is tearing the thing down.

Shanna said...

And wouldn't a libertarian holding this view want to punish those who took a valuable downtown lot off the property tax rolls for years, only to develop it now when it suits their purpose?.

Quite the contrary, a libertarian thinks it’s nobody’s damn business but the owner what the building looks like, if they use it for church or revenue or anything else. Mind your own damn business is the libertarian’s motto.

peter hoh said...

It has to be the most pleasing example of Brutalist architecture that I have seen.

Somehow, we need to preserve enough of these buildings so that we can learn from the mistakes of the past.

I think we're looking at the future home of AMBA, the American Museum of Brutalist Architecture.

Anthony said...

One of the ugliest buildings at Berkeley is Wurster Hall, the architecture building.

By comparison, the ribbed block of the math building, Evans Hall, was just the box Wurster came in. (Note that when I was at Berkeley, Evans didn't have the spiffy concrete-colored paint job, but was just bare concrete.)

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Libertarians don't mind paying more than their share of property taxes to let churches escape taxes completely, because they provide some unquantifiable benefit to the community? Churches consume their share of community services: streetlights, roads, police and fire protection, etc., without reimbursement.


The trouble is Churches don't pay taxes; their congregation does. removing a church form teh tax rolls does not effect the propety taxes much, but does save the congregations some dough.

Does an income producing church property need to be tax free? I don't think so, unless its primary function is religious (i.e.; don't tax the church hall, but tax their rental property).

Paddy O. said...

"Libertarians don't mind paying more than their share of property taxes to let churches escape taxes completely"

I'm not a libertarian in a lot of ways, so maybe that's why I think tax laws should be changed and churches made to pay the same property taxes as anyone else.

Would absolutely devastate the church world, but would really revolutionize the spirituality.

goesh said...

-looks like a good place for some serious water boarding. I have a feeling we are going to need it. Obama won't need to apologize at least to the Muslims of Pakistan if the Taliban gets their grubby fingers on the nuke buttons.

Balfegor said...

Yep. You don't like it, become the owner yourself.

Wasn't born at the time. Not that I'd have had the money anyhow, but that's a bit of civic beauty that's been lost for good -- I don't think anyone has the money now to restore it to its former splendour.

Or get enough people together to persuade the city to buy it and become the owner.

That actually sounds like the better plan. All things considered, though, it's cheaper for cities to just use draconian zoning powers to prevent the development of loathsome buildings. Sort of like what the Apple Store has been going through, as it struggles to imprint its cold fascistic aesthetic on a shopfront in Georgetown and gets slapped down repeatedly. The gentler version is the property tax break you get in DC for maintaining a historic facade.

Re: Anthony:

One of the ugliest buildings at Berkeley is Wurster Hall, the architecture building. Good heavens, it looks fit to house a torture chamber.

When I think about it, my objection to brutalist architecture is not actually so much that it is ugly -- there are many buildings that I think are ugly that I don't really have any problem with (e.g. most of those squat midrise apartment buildings in Tokyo). It's the way the architecture seems to flaunt that its maker was utterly unconcerned with human things, with human comfort, with life.

If you look at one of those tacky little buildings in Tokyo, they are -- certainly -- quite ugly, but they're also covered over with evidence of individual life -- with the shopfront in front, say, or with laundry, signage, little gardens, crates, etc. They're ugly buildings which have been humanised by their inhabitants. And they are ugly in the way that buildings that are just built, without any particular aesthetic plan, are ugly. Brutalism takes it to a new level. They're some of the few buildings I can think of that are improved by graffiti.

On the other hand, I live in a building built by East Germans (and it looks it!) so what do I know.

Larry said...

It's not ugly.

New york City just made a huge mistake, when they replaced the facade on the New York City Museum of Arts and Design.

The old facade was hated. But it was a masterpiece. And it was a vastly superior design to the piece of crap they replaced it with.

http://www.glasssteelandstone.com/BuildingDetail/688.php

Brutalist architecture gets a bad rap. The Boston City Hall is one of the best buildings in this country. Let's hope it survives.

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/brainiac/2005_10_city_hall-thumb.jpg

traditionalguy said...

If government claims to require property owners not to use their property except for our visual pleasure, then we have taken their property without compensation. Monuments in DC are everywhere, so who needs a Block Head building to remember the Block Heads who built it? You want history, go to Egypt, or build ancient egyptian stuff here like the Washington Monument. On a main highway in Marietta Georgia there was a 35 foot high Chicken-sign at the original KFC store from the mid 1950s that had become the best reference point for all verbal directions to drive to anywhere for miles around. When they decided to remove the "Big Chicken" sign during remodeling, there were tremendous protests. Eventually everyone agreed to put back up a half as tall version.

Pogo said...

If you're planning on building a prison for your own parishioners, it's hard to do better than this.

Brutalist style buildings seemed to have been designed by Associated Antichrist Architects, Inc. You can almost smell the brimstone in the lobby.

Be careful of the "LL" button on the elevator.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

I am a big fan of history and historical architechure, and libertarian. so I am torn over this building. If they own it, and no prior owner has protected it, let themn tear it down; it is their property,

But, if every new generation tears down everything that they consider old an ugly (which to most 20 year old kids is almost ANYTHING they didn't have something to do with) only to replace it with their own "vision", how much history would we soon have left?

I read a book 30 years ago called, IIRC, Vanishing America, which was a series of images of a beautiful old building on the left, a picture of the modern trash that replaced it on the right. Each modern building was "vision" of somebody who did not respect the vision of those that went before them. Not knowing what was on this lot earlier, its possible that this building and its predecessor were in the book.

Not that I'm a big fan of Brutalism; I personally can't think anything uglier. I also think we will probably have plenty of Brutalist buildings left to show just how ugly the style is, so one less will not upset me.

But I would like to see what they plan to replace it with; another steel and glass exo-skeletal monstrosity?

rocketeer67 said...

I'm not in real estate nor construction, but my impression is that keeping a building is less expensive than building a new one.Not always, and not even necessarily true in most instances. Reusing land and existing infrastructure is cheaper than building on a "virgin" site and installing new infrastructure, yes, but the buildings themselves? It's quite often much cheaper to demolish and build new than it is to rehab.

Hey said...

What you want to do is avoid becoming Venice. London and Paris are on the verge of Venicization and thankfully are pulling back from that by allowing the construction of new tall buildings in and around their cores.

The issue with Brutalism is that is a conscious rejection of all that architecture is. It also constantly reasserts itself - Maginot, Atlantic Wall, most late 60s and 70s Campus and government buildings. Brutalism is facile once you have concrete.

There has been a recent trend to preserve any modernist buildings, irrespective of their quality. The problem with Modernist and more recent buildings is that so many of them are examples of what not to do. They don't work with their surroundings, they don't accept/understand the limitations of their climates or materials, they don't work for their stated purposes. Too much theory and pure intellectual exercise, more worried about eliminating ornament and any connection with the past than on what the users of a building actually need. It's the victory of technocracy over custom and demonstrates the same failure as centrally planned economies - explicit articulated knowledge is insufficient, much of our accumulated wisdom and knowledge is implicit and nearly inarticulable.

There are some good Modernist buildings (Mies van der Rohe is responsible for much of them). Brutalism... err well useful lessons were learned. Post-modernism has been leading the way in demonstrating what not to do, Gehry's work leading the way (Stata center, AGO...) with Libeskind close behind.

There's a difference between things falling out of fashion and a revolt against the strong misanthropic base of theoretical architecture. Of course I would say that, but I do truly believe that there is a substantial basis for our broad desire to blow the living hell out of these things or, in most cases, blow up the living hell that these buildings are).

traditionalguy said...

There was a C. Scientist Reading Room in Buckhead (high end Atlanta area) for 40 years that looks just like the DC version. It's still there but the "Church" has sold out. The guys running that scam must be cashing in their real estate chips since the internet has replaced their version of mind control's need to be done at in an ugly building.

Henry said...

My backyard was once a prime example of brutalist landscape, but we went and improved it anyway.

Contra to the initial post -- most art and architecture has been lost to us, because humans were making "sense" all along. (I say that with acknowledgement of its tragic irony. The Romans made sense of Jeruselem by leveling it.)

Perhaps in this century the fact that we can level old structures so much more carelessly requires us to assume preservationism as a responsibility.

But shortsighted and stupid as development mistakes may be, I prefer a world where life is allowed to happen. Hey is right -- Venice is a bad model for dynamic urbanism.

Paul Zrimsek said...

All things considered, though, it's cheaper for cities to just use draconian zoning powers to prevent the development of loathsome buildings.

No. We only get to pretend it's cheaper because the cost is borne by the owner.

MadisonMan said...

I think that building as a certain charm to it, and I also really like the bell tower.

But I think it looks best at a distance, or in a photo. For a pedestrian, that kind of architecture screams out Stay Away and you really can't have that in a vibrant city.

I get a kick out of seeing some of my ancestor's buildings, etc., in and around Madison. I'm glad they weren't considered ugly and torn down.

Balfegor said...

Re: Larry:

Brutalist architecture gets a bad rap. The Boston City Hall is one of the best buildings in this country. Let's hope it survives.

Ah, yes. The ugliest building in the world. Indeed, it's an exemplar of the sanity sapping qualities of the worst modern architecture:

It confuses some people to enter from the plaza and then take the elevator up two floors only to find they're not on the third floor but on the fifth because the plaza entrance is on the third floor. Others are perplexed that on the south side there's no fourth floor and on the north side no fifth floor.

Brilliant!

Balfegor said...

No. We only get to pretend it's cheaper because the cost is borne by the owner.

Exactly! -- it's cheaper for the city. And for the pedestrians and everyone else.

Paul Zrimsek said...

If only Washington had had zoning laws in the 1970s, they could have prevented the ugly church!

Balfegor said...

If only Washington had had zoning laws in the 1970s, they could have prevented the ugly church!Haha, of course not. It was the 70s. The ugliest decade in history!

Anthony said...

It confuses some people to enter from the plaza and then take the elevator up two floors only to find they're not on the third floor but on the fifth because the plaza entrance is on the third floor. Others are perplexed that on the south side there's no fourth floor and on the north side no fifth floor.U.C. Berkeley has so many examples of bad architecture. Though the closest approximation to that quote is Dwinelle Hall (the English/Lit building, mostly), which is actually reasonably nice to look at, just a huge pain to find one's way around inside.

Anyway, the fact that preservationists want to preserve monstrosities like this makes it obvious that they are merely reflexive stasists (in Virginia Postrel's sense of the word), and not actually concerned with any actual values.

William said...

Brutalism was a product of its times. During the seventies there were frequent riots and a sense of impending doom. These buildings were designed to survive insurrections and appear impregnable to the surrounding populace. There are no broken windows in buildings without windows.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Brutalism is the architectural equivalent of the Cultural Revolution; Madame Mao and Pol Pot's tombs should be of Brutalist design.

Boston City Hall needs to be razed to the ground and the ground then needs to be heavily salted. Every year on the anniversary of the razing effigies of architects Kallmann, McKinnell, and Knowles should be burned as a warning to all present and future anti-human "start from zero" intellectuals to not get cocky.

As for this church- it can go. Look at the background in the photo: the true legacy of modernist architecture is the cheap, soulless crapitecture of those buildings. They are EVERYWHERE and will stand as monuments to the "soul" of Brutalism with no preservation funds needed

former law student said...

One aspect of Brutalism which has been neglected here is the attractive wood grain finish left by the plywood forms.
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I'm kidding.

Regarding modern architecture and churches: Here's a picture of the only church structure designed by Mies Van Der Rohe, the "God Box" at Illinois Institute of Technology.

http://usa.archiseek.com/illinois/chicago/iit/church.html

Joe said...

Not only is this building ugly, it's badly built and extremely impractical. To do something as simple as changing a light bulb requires a major and very expensive effort.

(The truly annoying part of this story is that it was someone completely unconnected with the structure who made the building in question a historical site--that's a government taking. Same thing happened in the town I grew up in with an old church--they told the city to either buy the place or get out of the way; the city got out of the way.)

bearbee said...

Looks like something the KGB would enjoy calling home.

Some Soviet architecture Keep it!

Maybe they could sell it to the government. It may come in handy.

ricpic said...

Two commenters have said the building has charm.

What charm? WHAT CHARM?!

Maybe saying this brutal affront has charm just shows how withit, how au courant, how knowing you are. That's the only explanation I can come up with.
Or they're nuts.

Balfegor said...

What charm? WHAT CHARM?!
The charm of immense cyclopean architecture, vast angles and concrete surfaces loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours? Well can I imagine the dreadful tintinnabulation of those bells!

Jason (the commenter) said...

ricpic: What charm? WHAT CHARM?!

I think it has a nice shape. It would make an interesting rice cooker. And it might be great in a science fiction movie. It's stubby and cute.

The problem with a lot of modern/postmodern architecture is it looks great on paper or as a tiny model: pretty smooth lines, gradations of shadow over a smooth surface; but it is awful when you build it and actually have to interact with it at full size.

Father Martin Fox said...

About taxing church property...

Some is taxed. The house I live in, provided by the church, is taxed at the normal rate. Also, some of the property used for parking is taxed, because we can't get the county to understand that (a) the house was torn down and asphalt was laid, many years ago and (b) it's no longer taxable under the law. It is a pain to challenge it, but if it makes you feel better, it generates revenue for the government.

If we had to pay the taxes, we could, it wouldn't be a killer. The taxes on the school, however, would be harsh. But then, do public schools pay property taxes? I honestly don't know.

It would hit retreat centers and small congregations with big churches the hardest, I think.

bearbee said...

re: Ugliest buildings in the world

Soviet architecture

Love Boat.

Boxcar junkyard .

ET goes home.

Spongehead Bob in concrete

Love Boat 2.

Giant Dominoes.

Bus Stop shabby unchic

???

Beth said...

It's ugly. And if it's falling apart, it's not a well-built structure.

We had a similar fight here last year. The Archdiocese sold a flooded Catholic Church and its grounds were sold to a Catholic high school that wanted to rebuild out of the even-more flooded 9th Ward. The church building itself was championed by some of its old congregation, and the architecture school at Tulane, as the only remaining sample of Nathaniel Curtis' design work in New Orleans. Previously, his Rivergate Convention Center had fallen to make way for the garish Harrah's Casino at the foot of Canal Street. I liked the Rivergate, with its flowing roof, but I also like garish.

The church building has a similar wavy roof design and the dingy 70s concrete look. It leaked, it was moldy BEFORE the storm, old people kept falling on the tile floor, and it was terribly expensive for a small parish to keep up. The case for keeping it was purely sentimental.

We happened to be driving by it on the exact hour when the ball swung to pull it down. There were people crying in the neutral ground, watching it crumble, and I felt sorry for them. But I'm also really happy to see Holy Cross taking shape on the site, and bringing new life to this neighborhood trying to recover from the storm.

Synova said...

Someday the structures of the re-building will be the historical ones of sentiment.

Chip Ahoy said...

I understand why this is termed Brutalist architecture, raw cement and all that, but it strikes me more as something akin to post-modern armorial with a touch of decoration, summat. But no need to tear it all down just because it's grown ugly. Now if it were dangerous, that be another story.

Oh no. I feel a Photoshopping session coming on.

Here, have yourselves a Pimp my church.

Tom Jones' Prison Beeyatch said...

It's funny. I always hated modernism and it's 'now and forevermore' recreation of our cities.

But once it became a historical style associated with the 50's and 60's, the last great age of civilizational confidence, Sinatra, Palm Springs, etc., I've grown rather sentimental about it.

However this is just ugly. If we are going to save things let's at least save the good things.

Tom Jones' Prison Beeyatch said...

Wait...

You went to art school?!

Beth said...

Synova, true that.

Rockeye said...

I must be a philistine, because I do like a certain amount of Brutalist architecture. By the way, who came up with that name? Surely a hater.
On a related tack, a friend worked with one of FL Wright's proteges, and he hates the buildings. He complains that the roofs always leak (oddly dedsigned), the doors stick (asymetrical, heavy, internal walls settle unevenly), and that the buildings as a whole seem to be made for looking at, not living in.
I also believe mere age doesn't make anything worth preserving on its own.

KLDAVIS said...

This can't be a coincidence. Another Church of Christ Science that looks like a transformer?

Balfegor said...

I must be a philistine, because I do like a certain amount of Brutalist architecture.

On the contrary, it indicates that you have a refined architectural taste in tune with bien-pensant artistic opinion. We who think Brutalism should be consigned to the ash-heap of history, an act of damnatio passed upon it, and its images and statues torn down and broken in the public square -- we are the philistines. And proudly so.

By the way, who came up with that name? Surely a hater.

No, wikipedia suggests to me that's what they called themselves. So, as you can see, they meant it all. It wasn't like they thought they were building beautiful, elegant buildings fit for human habitation and this all happened by accident. They did it on purpose.

MadisonMan said...

As to why I find it charming, that's hard to say. I do like the bells hanging out over the sidewalk, ready to drop on unsuspecting passersby's heads. It's easy to look at -- no cluttering details or color.

But like I said, I'd hate to walk up to it.

Richard Fagin said...

Ah, Jen pushed a hot button! Tesla! Inventor of the whole world as we know it. Edison was a mere piker by comparison.

Prize of no monetary value to the one who can name Tesla's invention that meets the above description (and his physics professor in Paris labeled him an idiot for thinking such a thing could be built).

Don't cheat and look it up, dang it.

John Lynch said...

It looks like a gun emplacement. Something on the Atlantic Wall or Verdun.

Saying a 30-40 year old building is historic is... really strange. One of the ways a building becomes historic is by being useful enough to survive for a long time. If it can't, then how historic can it be?

And it's bizarre as hell that you can be told that your own building is too historic to tear down, when it's yours!

Here's the moral: never construct a cutting-edge building that stands out. You might never be able to get rid of it!

Big Mike said...

Two things about architecture really bug me. The first is the case of architects who design buildings that can't be maintained and/or are poorly suited to their purpose. This building is one example of the former -- and I note in passing that Falling Water's cantilevered concrete slabs needed a major structural overhaul to prevent the house from toppling over. An example of a bulding that too many think of as a masterpiece but it doesn't work for its intended purpose is I. M. Pei's East Building of the National Gallery of Art at the east end of the Washington Mall. IMAO it doesn't even do a decent job of showing off Calder's mobile, let alone its collections.

The second thing about architecture that hacks me off are preservation committees that can dictate what and how an owner can do with his building. Whether it's making the owner repaint because he used the wrong shade of tan or maintain a building that is on the verge of falling down, I find it repellent that they can force homeowners or church congregations to spend vast sums of money and not be forced to provide some or all of that money themselves.

Big Mike said...

@Richard, you are probably talking about the alternating current motor and generator.

But I'm cheating a little. I'm descended through the maternal line from one of Tesla's sisters.

former law student said...

that [FLW] buildings as a whole seem to be made for looking at, not living in.Actually, both.

A friend of a friend of mine owned the Cheney* house in Oak Park. II noticed a number of intelligent design features in my brief visit. To save lot space, the garage was in the basement. For summer ventilation in an era long before air conditioning, windows built into the wall between the living room and master bedroom which held the fireplace could be opened, to let air flow across the house.

The overhanging roofs also kept the house cool by shading the windows.

Finally, the front porch's concrete floor sloped to a drain to prevent ponding and basement flooding.

*Wright and Mrs. Cheney ran off together. The house was completed in 1903.

MarkW said...

Do you realize how many famous, well known and seemingly intelligent people were horrified at the thought and then the actual construction of the Eiffel Tower?It's hilarious to me that every damn time modernist architects (or their supporters) want to deflect criticism for some ghastly new dump (which is to say -- almost every time a ghastly new dump is built), they trot out the claim that everybody hated the Eiffel Tower at first. I don't believe it, for several reasons. First, I've never seen any evidence of that (e.g. surveys of the public at the time), and I'm skeptical because the Victorians clearly loved ironworks -- think of the Crystal Palace in London or Monet's paintings of Gare Saint-Lazare. And keep in mind that the great Ferris Wheel at the Chicago Columbian Exposition was intended to match and outdo the Eiffel Tour that was built only a couple years earlier. Who would want to match and outdo a hated building?

But suppose it's true that most Parisians disliked the Eiffel tower at first -- that is the one and only example that's ever provided. Most people are NEVER going to come to love brutalism or feel saddened when brutalist bunkers are demolished.

And architects need to grow up and stop taking public opprobrium as a sign of sophistication and success. If the people who are forced to look at your 'art' every day HATE it, you, sir, are a jerk whose efforts have made the world a poorer place. Period.

knox said...

I wouldn't want EVERY building to look like that, but I have to say I kinda like it.

peter hoh said...

traditional guy @ 11:40: did you get the Christian Scientists confused with the Scientologists?

former law student said...

What I like about that church is the way the bell panel appears to fold out of the building; that it could be put back into the opening.

Of course if the church is pimped with that balcony, that would no longer be possible.

Another factor to consider: the number of Christian Scientists is declining, as more people trust modern medicine, and as MD avoiders tend to die off sooner. Are there really any congregants left? Maybe the city has a greater interest in keeping the church as is than do the successors to the congregation.

Tom Jones' Prison Beeyatch said...

By the way, who came up with that name? Surely a hater.

No, wikipedia suggests to me that's what they called themselves. So, as you can see, they meant it all. It wasn't like they thought they were building beautiful, elegant buildings fit for human habitation and this all happened by accident. They did it on purpose.
False cognate. The original French meaning is closer to the word "strong." Well it certainly is that.

As a rule, high-end elite architecture is nearly always unmaintainable, inhabitable and discomforting, so that alone shouldn't disqualify this.

Gehry's structures are breathtaking, and all of them are horrible failures. They should all be emptied, disassembled, re-erected in some empty plain (N. Dakota could use a tourist trap) and appreciated as some giant sculpture garden. They're worthless as buildings.

Tom Jones' Prison Beeyatch said...

I will also say this also meets Venturi's requirements.

It is both shed and duck.

traditionalguy said...

Peter Hoh... The Scientologists were started in the late 1940's by a science fiction writer who saw how easy it was to mind control intelligent people who had no supernatural religious traditions of their own. The Christian Science cult started much earlier as a mind over matter self healing cult back when medical doctors couldn't help much.It has NO connection to Christianity, and relies on reading room where you here and read only the thoughts of their founder until you believe you are well...and of course you cannot go to a medical doctor which shows your lack of belief. Many people rely on it like they would a psychic's advice and pay lots of money for nothing except an early death and orphaned children.

Balfegor said...

False cognate. The original French meaning is closer to the word "strong."

Wikipedia tells me the term "Brutalism" was coined by Alison and Peter Smithson, who were apparently English architects, not French. Perhaps they based it on French "beton brut," but as English-speakers, they knew quite well what they were saying.

Gehry's structures are breathtaking, and all of them are horrible failures. They should all be emptied, disassembled, re-erected in some empty plain (N. Dakota could use a tourist trap) and appreciated as some giant sculpture garden.

I wouldn't mind that, actually -- Japan did that with Wright's Imperial Hotel, moving the facade to Nagoya when a new hotel was built on the site.

Anthony said...

Balfegor - when people would try to argue that Evans was worse than Wurster, I'd reply that Evans Hall is just passively ugly. It sits there, it's ugly, move on. Wurster, on the other hand, reaches out, grabs you by the neck with its concrete-finned hands, and shakes you, shouting "I'm ugly! Look at me!".

And yes, those window shades are horizontal slabs of concrete. Fortunately, only the upper-floor ones collect much bird-crap.

Palladian said...

It's beautiful. I like the medieval qualities of so-called "brutalism". Too bad there are so many yahoos here.

Gehry is a laughably bad fantasy architect.

rhhardin said...

It looks like a loudspeaker enclosure.

Maybe the acoustics are good.

roimort said...

Like several previous commenters I don't think it's ugly at all.

I don't much care if the owners tear it down. In fact, as a fellow New Yorker, I agree with Richard Dolan that promiscuous landmarking is truly a plague.

I just object to the term "indisputably ugly". Nothing is indisputable on this blog.

John Lynch said...

Another great building from the era

traditionalguy said...

John Lynch... That building may be a new CIA Torture facility since there are no ways to escape or see inside. That building does at least torture its viewers, the rest of my comment being an attempt at a Square Block of humor. Do you know if Airforce One has "taken its picture" there yet?

Ralph said...

I am a historic district homeowner. Whenever I think my arteries need cleaning, I read the "guidelines."

What do Christian Scientists do at their services--eat chunks of doctor, washed down with the blood of pharmacists?

knox said...

It's beautiful. I like the medieval qualities of so-called "brutalism". Too bad there are so many yahoos here.

phew! Huge sigh of relief that I admitted I kind of like it. Still a fairly philistine comment, I suppose.

elHombre said...

FLS wrote: "Libertarians don't mind paying more than their share of property taxes to let churches escape taxes completely, because they provide some unquantifiable benefit to the community?"

Funny, the predominantely blue collar church I belong to provided meals for 900 homeless people at Christmas and a halfway house for female excons, raised $16,000 in one service for tsunami relief, sent seven teams of four (with money) to NO to rebuild after Katrina, supports educational and medical missions in Uganda, the Sudan and several other locations, etc., etc.

Unquantifiable? What have you done for humanity lately?

Freeman Hunt said...

Libertarians don't mind paying more than their share of property taxes to let churches escape taxes completely, because they provide some unquantifiable benefit to the community?

Libertarians care about maximizing property taxes? Or even about having property taxes at all? I've yet to meet a Libertarian who would shed a tear over the State missing out on a buck.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seven Machos said...

Jesus, people. It's fucking awful. What were you people thinking in the era between World War II and about 1980 that made you make art that was so terrible and hideous and aggrieving to the senses? It is deeply concerting.

Palladian said...

"Jesus, people. It's fucking awful."

Reactionary pig. Reminds me why I'm not a Republican.

Palladian said...

"It is deeply concerting."

I'd agree with this statement...

Seven Machos said...

Yes, Palladian. I did make a typo.

How you, an otherwise erudite lover and knower of beauty and rightness, could like such an edifice is a mystery for the ages. That thing makes the glass box look like Westminster.

And, by the way, people, just so you know, Mies Van Der Rohe lived in the beautiful little co-op next to mine for much of his adult life. A little plaque says so. It's graceful, elegant, and well-ornamented. Funny, that he didn't live in any of the crap he designed, or anything remotely like the crap he designed, don't you think? A bit like Rush Limbaugh voting a straight Democratic ticket...

Pogo said...

I worked in a Brutalist building for 10 years.

Curiously, it seemed like a sentence more than a job, complete with random punishments and being put in isolation. I was paroled in 2000.

Can your environment really shape your life that much?

Probably not, but it made me hate the Brutalist style of architecture to its rotten steel beamed core. So I guess I'm not exactly an impartial judge.

I allways thought my work should have used this one area in the basement for the staff to take an aimless circular walk around the central pole, like in Midnight Express.

bearbee said...

What were you people thinking in the era between World War II and about 1980 that made you make art that was so terrible and hideous and aggrieving to the senses?.

Bunker mentality? Society went from the Great Depression right into WWII, then McCarthyism and the cold war with the prospect of nuclear annihilation, the 60's with Viet Nam, assassinations, riots and burning cities, radicalism and bombing of institutions.

Maybe society has to create visual symbols, proceed through them and finally destroy them.

Space Odyssey 2001 monolith Dawning of man

former law student said...

Funny, the predominantely blue collar church I belong to

Concrete help to the community is not a precondition for property tax exemption for houses of worship.

in the era between World War II and about 1980

Actually these ugly concrete buildings did not start going up till the late 60s. They were cheap and therefore desirable.

The North Lake Shore Drive condoes designed by Mies were pleasant enough to live in -- a buddy bought one.

CTyankee said...

Regardless of the style of architecture, this is the problem with historical preservation laws seeking to protect church buildings, which are often minimally adaptable to other uses. An historic cast-iron building in SoHo can host an almost limitless range of uses, by comparison.

This church in particular appears to have an adaptability rating, on a scale of 1 to 10, of about -2. In some exceptional circumstances -- say Notre Dame or St. Patrick's cathedral -- it might make sense for a city to step in and preserve it anyways (tourism revenues might make it economically preferable to demolition). But here? This is one battle not worth fighting.