In The Balance


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?

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