Archive for August, 2010

Les Grandes Marches

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

In our second of a three part exploration of brutalism, we examine one of the most elegantly understated buildings in the district.   The offices of The Department of Housing and Urban Development was designed by Marcel Breuer and was completed in 1968.  This pre-cast concrete facade houses one of the most important institutions of our forthcoming era.  With the rapid increase in global urbanization, sophisticated and robust planning initiatives must be deployed  if we are to meet the needs of the growing urban population.

Even though HUD here in DC doesn’t necessarily operate on an international level with these kinds of urban problems, it will become more and more important to be aware of these challenges in coming decades.  The figures are staggering, especially in developing countries.   Within just 30 years, cities in developing countries will triple their entire urban built-up area, generating the same amount of urban area as the entire world had cumulatively generated by the year 2000–much of it will be in the form of over crowded slums.   In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, slum dwellers make up 72 percent of the urban population, totaling more than 166 million people in 2001.  Their numbers are expected to increase to more than 325 million by 2020, more than the current population of the United States of America.





In other news, Virginia Tech Architecture professor and National Building Museum curator Susan Piedmont Palladino gave a lecture on brutalism a few weeks ago and used a few Straight Torquer photographs.  She blogs about architecture and sustainability at:


Leave Everything

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

The McMillan Reservoir Filtration Plant was built in 1905.  At the time it was constructed it utilized an innovative sand filtration technology that replaced toxic chemicals for treating water. It operated continuously for 80 years.  This  abandoned facility in North West DC is an eerie and mysterious landscape.  The wide fields are dotted with crop-circle-esque patterning of manhole covers extending the mechanical construct out into the at first seemingly empty grass plains.  It is truly a vast machine.







One is reminded of the French modern architect Le Corbusier’s study of the early industrial grain silos of North America in his seminal book: Towards a New Architecture.  It them he saw utility, simplicity, material efficiency, and exciting structural form.

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.