Archive for the ‘Washington DC’ Category

We Share Our Mother’s Health

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Located next to the Capitol Building on the National Mall, The Hubert H. Humphry Building was designed by Marcel Breuer in 1975 and houses the headquarters of the US Department of Health and Human Services.  This excellent example of brutalism employs both pre-cast and cast-in place concrete to create a richly textured exterior with many sloping planes that pleasingly interact with the angled light.  Le Corbusier, the father of brutalism, is famous for saying: “Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light.”  One can see this philosophy at play in this building, where high contrast shadows add depth and interest to the building facade.





Crystal Castle

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

At $830 per square foot, this LEED-Gold office tower designed by Helmut Jahn is the second most expensive piece of commercial real estate ever to be sold in Washington DC.  Located at 1999 K Street, the building may seem underwhelming at a distance.  However the uniquely expressed curtain wall is a cleanly detailed system that delivers a completely original experience.  Each curtain panel is buttressed by a vertical fin of glass projecting from the flat surface of the building.  The functional directive of the fins is to provide wind-load support, but their sculptural quality is what makes them so exciting.  From a vantage point on the adjacent sidewalk, the fins create a mosaic effect of angular geometric transparency.   The result is very subtle, and likely missed by the majority of passers by.  But it is exactly this understated simplicity that leads to a profoundly graceful power.  The close-up photos of the wall are worth clicking on.  The lobby at night is also a vivid space.







Tectonic Botany

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the US National Arboretum on New York Avenue in North East DC  houses an impressive collection of specimens, some over 350 years old.   Almost any tree can be made into a bonsai and there are wide variety of species on display.   These miniaturized plants represent a profound control of the human hand over nature and they are surprisingly robust for their delicate size.  Many of the trees do require meticulous care from time to time, but generally they live outdoors fully among the elements.   Beyond the Bonsai exhibit, the huge arboretum offers a great deal of natural and landscaped beauty and makes for a terrific bike ride.





Kit of Parts

Friday, June 18th, 2010

The DC office of law firm Jones Day has been open since 1946, but they recently hired Pritzker Pirize winning architect Sir Richard Rogers to design an environmentally friendly state of the art addition to their historic Acacia Building. The two buildings are linked by an atrium space with a dramatic exposed steel structure rising through the center.  The skeletal yellow frame engages and supports multiple systems of circulation between several floors connecting the old building to the addition.  An elevator, stairs, and several bridges hang off the construction delicately, with all fastenings and constructed technologies revealed to the public.  The stark technological minimalism and “kit of parts” approach to architecture is Rogers’ signature style and can be seen typified in the famous Centre du Pompidou in Paris.






Soft Stone

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

The Katzen Art Center at American University is a serene and fluid arrangement of plastic forms rendered in stone.  The orbital sweeping lines carry your eye around the building’s side, inviting exploration.  The sunken sculpture garden is partially hidden from view but contains several treasures.  The building houses academic, performing art, and fine art spaces and was designed by Boston based firm Einhorn Yaffee Prescott.






Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

“Fashion is architecture.  It is a matter of proportion.”  -Coco Channel

The Mary Basket collection of contemporary Japanese fashion was recently on display at the Textile Museum on S street.  Pieces by Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto were presented as groundbreaking examples of avant garde design from the 1970s and early 1980s.   By innovating new formal abilities of cloth through structural pleating as well as focusing on abstract silhouettes that are at times incongruous with the human shape, monochromatic color pallets, asymmetry, and graphics, these designers effectively set the stage for the postmodern movement in fashion.





FDA Campus

Monday, April 5th, 2010

The nearly completed headquarters of the US Food and Drug Administration is located in White Oak, Maryland, near the the edge of Washington, DC.  This 9000 employee office and laboratory campus has been under construction for almost a decade and is one of the largest government construction projects in history.  The FDA regulates companies that make up fully a quarter of the US economy, making the size of the institution more understandable.  Under the guidance of Rod Henderer and Douglas Palladino at RTKL Associates (in a joint venture with Kling Stubbins), this facility exhibits some of the most sophisticated and timeless modern architecture currently being built in the greater District area.

Full disclosure:  The author of The Straight Torquer worked on this project.






Monday, March 22nd, 2010

The mythic history of the Finnish people is on display right now a the Finish Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue.  Viewing this exhibition is a wonderful excuse to visit one of the finest examples of modern architecture in Washington DC.  The soaring central space is punctuated by massive copper colored forms that appear to be floating in space.  For views of the exterior, please see this post:

From speaking with the cultural ambassador I learned among other things that the Finnish hero figure is known not for his might on the battlefield, but rather for his graceful diction and storytelling prowess.  His symbolic power object is a musical instrument made from the jaw bone of a fish.





Concrete Texture

Monday, March 15th, 2010

These three buildings on 15th street at M compliment one another nicely.




Embassy of Finland

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

The Finnish Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue was designed by Heikkinen-Komonen in 1994 and is an emblem of Scandinavian design.  It is an elegant example of utilitarian minimalism utilizing raw unfinished materials to achieve a refined and poetic composition.  The un-ordained granite walls on the East and West of the building rely on the material’s own natural luster for there beauty.  The North and South walls are constructed of glass and translucent glass block with an integrated steel grid supporting the growth of vines that act as a regulating system for solar exposure and heat gain.

The building was meant to be a clear statement of Finnish identity and is considered by Architectural Review to be the “best new building in Washington in the past 50 years.”  For some background, look up the work of twentieth century modernist Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, who has richly influenced the architecture of the region.

For interior shots, see this post:





Crown Chakra

Monday, December 7th, 2009

In a considerably more humble expression of space this week, we explore the interior of the Phillip Johnson Pavilion. This serene and understated building houses the Pre-Columbian Art Collection at the Dumbarton Museum and Gardens in Georgetown. Philip Johnson designed the building in 1959 to be connected to the natural environment surrounding it. He accomplished this through large panels of curved glass which enclose a cluster of oversize circular columns. The playful building plan is composed of circles amongst circles. One can imagine the trace of the architect’s compass as he constructed the drawing out of relationships in geometry, proportion and human scale.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the building can only be experienced through a physical visit because it is exclusively auditory. Architects are know to play with spatial forms in light, but here Johnson explores the potent spatially of sound. The mathematics of the the domed roofs of the galleries is such that there exist pockets of sound amplification near the center of the rooms. As you are walking through the space, you become suddenly aware that your breath is amplified in your ears as if through headphones. The effect is startling and surreal.

Philip johnson occupies an impressively broad position in the history of architecture. As a young but influential curator of architecture at the MoMA, it was his widely viewed 1930 exhibition that introduced America to the “international style” (aka modernism) that was already in the forefront of Europe design. His was the voice that said most clearly to Mies, Corbusier and Gropius: “Come to America, build the city of the future, and we will love it.” Thus ushered several generations of architects focused on the aesthetics of technical minimalism and the poetics of honesty in construction. Incredibly, Johnson survived long enough in the echelons of architectural credibility that later in his career he became one of the pioneering voices in the pop-art/pastiche inspired movement of post-modern architecture in the 1980s that temporarily swept the earnest establishment of modernism aside.





DC From the Air

Monday, December 7th, 2009

A large scale detailed model of Washington is on display in the lobby of the office of the National Capital Planning Commission at 401 9th Street NW.  The NCPC is a governmental organization that regulates federal projects in and around the District that fall under its specific jurisdiction.