The more I look around town, the more buildings I find by I.M. Pei. Of all twentieth century greats, he seems to have built the most in Washington DC. Here we have the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel, completed in 1973, which is located just south of the Mall on 9th street. Though I enjoy brutalist forms, I had an experience recently that made me second guess my unabashed love for the stark modernist style. Late at night, I got off at the L’Enfant Plaza metro stop and found myself wandering around an uninviting and alienating concrete landscape of soaring spaces that while beautiful in an awe-inspiring sense, were not comfortable to inhabit. I felt nervous and dehumanized. It is already clear in the art world that modern art need not comfort. As you can see from this sculpture by renowned artist Damien Hirst, art for its own sake need not be cuddly and immediately enjoyable to perceive. There is a certain sense of pleasure or at least value in contemplating the conceptual qualities that the piece evokes in the viewer, even if that effect is shock revulsion. But what about architecture? There does seem to be some compelling reason to tailor the constructed spaces around us to actually be pleasant to inhabit. The functionality of architecture remains integral in a way that art has managed to escape practicality.
Archive for June, 2009
This newly constructed building near the Capitol in North West was designed by Kruek Sexton and features their familiar expanses of angled curtain wall segments. The effect here is more subtle than say, the Spertus Institute, which comes across as more of a jumble of fragmented forms. This building is essentially an orthogonal form that has been “sliced” on two sides. The angles are not many and not severe, but the effect is dramatic. On one side of the building is reflected simultaneously the sky above and the urban landscape below.
From the oposite side of the buiding, one perceives almost an entirely different building. The perpendicular walls and linear fins (presumably to help with windload as well as shading), offer a much more distinct sense of verticality, something missing in many Washington buildings due to our hieght restrictions.
Head over to The prince of Petworth to read a recent guest post where I defend the Third Church of Christ from demolition. There was a great deal of passionate contribution to the discussion. Have an opinion? leave a comment!
The National Museum of American History opened in 1964 and was one of the last buildings designed by the famous architecture firm McKim Mead & White. In 2006, SOM designed a renovation of the grand central stairway, including a 5-story sky-lit atrium. Can you tell from these photos that the interior and exterior is of the same building?