Archive for April, 2009

Solar Orientation

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

The Edward B Bunn Intercultural Center at Georgetown University in Washington DC exhibits an effective strategy for active sustainable design.  The entire slopped surface seen here is oriented to the south and covered with photovoltaic panels.  The building was built in 1982, however, so one wonders at the efficiency of the somewhat dated panels and even whether they are still functioning.

A quotation from French priest and paleontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., appears above the stairs leading down to its auditorium: “The Age of Nations is past. It remains for us now, if we do not wish to perish, to set aside the ancient prejudices and build the earth.”



Stacks on the Potomac

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Lauinger Library at Georgetown University is a dramatic example of brutalism.


Just for good measure, La Tourette, by Le Corbusier:


In With the Old

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

Designed by Piero Sartogo Architects in 1992, the embassy of Italy in Washington DC is a successful attempt at incorporating an evocative historical tradition within a thoroughly modern architectural style.  The building is at once “international” and at the same time one can see the intentional references to the cradle of the renaissance.  The building’s angular footprint aligns with architect Pierre Charles l’Enfant’s classical 18th century plan for the city, with its broad diagonal streets slicing through the orthogonal grid as is also found in several European cities (particularly Rome and Paris).  The building also evokes Italy’s architectural tradition with its reinterpretation on the courtyard of the Tuscan Villa, as well as the great sloping wall on the south side of the building which reminds one of the defensive ramparts of a medieval Italian castle.  The material choice on the exterior of the building can also be seen to be reminiscent of Italy’s extensive use of marble, travertine and other stone.

At the same time that these historical references are immediately perceivable, the building is clearly a piece of modern architecture.  The forms and materials are meant to gesture to the influences of the past, not copy them as if the building would falsely attempt to pass for a building of another era.  At the same time that Italy has a rich classicist background, they are also currently the world leaders in modern minimalist furniture design and fabrication.  Sartogo is comfortable with this strong affinity for modernism and it comes across in the design through the two-story glass enclosed atrium as well as the subtle but complex facets in the windows.




In The Balance

Saturday, April 18th, 2009


The Third Church of Christ, Scientist is at the center of a heated battle. The building was designed in 1971 by Araldo Cossutta with I.M. Pei for a presumably appreciative parish. The current congregation, however, loathes it–claiming it intimidates the average worshiper with its austere presence and is costly to maintain. They blame the stark brutalist architectural style, with its unordained concrete forms and elemental geometry. But the District of Columbia’s historic preservation board designated the church a historic landmark in December of 2007 specifically because it is a strong and unique example of architectural modernism. In July 2008, the board turned down the church’s request to raze the building. In response, Third Church filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the landmark restriction, alleging violation of two religious freedom laws and the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment.  Continues after the jump

I feel strongly that the original church structure should be saved. The stated goal of the historic preservation office is to “successfully revitalize residential communities and the downtown area, and thereby capitalize on the unique assets of the past.” I would agree that the building does not fit contemporary trends in urban planning that involve multi-use buildings that engage the street and encourage occupancy at all hours of the day. However, the building represents an important example of a particularly influential movement in architectural history and it is an iconic piece in a respected architect’s body of work. So though it may not revitalize the community with its functional form, it is surely an asset of the past on which a revitalized community could capitalize. With “new urbanist” design becoming the norm for so many mediocre apartment towers, isn’t there enough room in this city for a few museum pieces? They add diversity, texture, and bright points of interest. They remind us of what is stylistically possible over time and keep current modes in perspective.

What do you think? Is the historic preservation board right in protecting this undeniably unique building? Or should it be demolished to make room for a new development—bending to popular opinion?

Ice Burg

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

The Brown Center at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.  Designed by designed by Ziger/Snead out of Baltimore.  Thanks to Hiroshi for the tip!