Embassy of Finland

January 17th, 2010 by admin

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

December 7th, 2009 by admin

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

December 7th, 2009 by admin

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.



Float On

November 23rd, 2009 by admin

The courtyard of the National Portrait Museum in The Penn Quater, Washingon DC is a warm and quiet space and a pleasure to inhabit after dark.  A grid of slender columns supports the monocoque roof which extends just to the edge of the 4 classical roof edges.  Norman Foster designed the modern renovation in 2000.




A Town Square for the World

November 9th, 2009 by admin

The headquarters of the World Bank in downtown Washington DC is a graceful composition that disguises its massive size with subtle texture transitions and balanced massing.  At over 2 million square feet and accommodating 4300 employees, this is a huge building by any standard.  However by burying 30% of it beneath street level and by breaking up the overall volume visually into a collection of buildings that fit the scale of those existing on the site, the architects were able to avoid making the headquarters appear monolithic or daunting.  The varied but coherent whole can be seen as representative of the banks diverse international makeup.

It would seem important for this building not to be designed in the western classical architectural tradition.  Though prevalent in Washington DC, a building of that style could carry associations too laden with memories of colonialism for such an international mission.   KPF Associate’s modern design effectively presents an unladen image of international prominence while simultaneously respecting its urban neighbors with both color and scale.

The atrium space is truly awe-inspiring in both scale and attention to detail.  Security is tight, but if you get the oportunity to visit the interior I highly suggest you do so.







That Hour

November 8th, 2009 by admin

I came across this little gem at Stanley Kubrick’s favorite time of day: “that hour when the light is perfect…and everyone is exhausted.”

Imagine how nice that pool deck must be  Notice the outboard structure spanning between balconies and the tinted sunscreens partially shading the inner layer of glass.  Very nice.  It’s located at 648 19th street NW.  Anyone know the architect?


A Place for Cycles

November 1st, 2009 by admin

Designed by Donald C. Paine Jr. of KGB Design Studio, this boldly shaped pavilion is a storage and repair facility for bicyclists.  It is located to the west side of Union Station.

An interview with the Architect:







The Importance of Transparency

October 26th, 2009 by admin

This modern minimalist glass cube was added to the classical style City Hall of Washington DC by architect Hani Hassan in the past year.  As a place for the process of enactment  of objective justice, it is appropriate that the entrance to the 223 year old building is equiped with a functionalist piece of logically crisp architecture.  Oddly enough to my own sensibilities,  it has been studied by psychologists that when shown an image of a courthouse and asked to imagine being tried in that building for a crime one did not commit, people are distinctly more comfortable with this event taking place in a building of the classical style over one in the modern style.  This is a crisis of divided representation.  One must see architecture not as a collection of distinct styles that can be chosen from in order to evoke a particular iconographic memory, but rather as a progressive  and responsive functional process of creative discovery and material problem solving toward a more just and verdant world.  As we progress stylistically and technologically in our design of the urban construct, so does the polis become more  free.  Imagine on the day that the innocent person is acquitted, they would be symbolically cleansed of suspicion and malign by the physical act of passing through an instance of Tabula Rasa space as they exit the forum.




Mini Mies

October 26th, 2009 by admin

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is the only building in Washington DC designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  Designed in 1972, it was his last piece of work before he died at the age of 83 without ever seeing its complete construction.  The 400,000 square foot public library is the central facility of the district’s library system but it has been plagued by mechanical failures for many years.  Mayor Anthony D. Williams and the library board wanted to replace the aged facility with a new building but the DC historic preservationist board sucesfully added the building to the National Record of Historic Places, effectively preventing immediate demolition.   There are tentative plans for renovation, including painting the dark steel facade silver, replacing the tinted glass with clear, and adding an additional floor with roof terrace (an option designed into the original structural frame).

Notice the famous Barcelona Chairs, originally designed by Meis in 1929.

See also: http://thestraighttorquer.com/?p=554





Two Types of Line

October 20th, 2009 by admin

Offices of The Pan American Health Organization at 525, 23rd Street, N.W. in Washington, DC.


2009 Solar Decathlon

October 13th, 2009 by admin

One sun, twenty teams, 10 events: The 2009 Solar Decathlon is currently underway on the National Mall in Washington DC.  The houses will be open to the public this weekend only, October 15-19.  I highly suggest you go check it out.  These twenty schools are incubators for some of the most exciting advancements in sustainable design happening today.  If you want to see the cutting edge of green, don’t miss this exhibition.  Here are some of my favorite entries:

Team Ontario/BC  (University of Waterloo, Ryerson University, Simon Fraser University) :


Cornell University:


Team California (Santa Clara University, California College of the Arts) :


Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany:


And last but not least, my own alma mater, Virginia Tech’s LumenHaus:





Neo-Classical Space

September 21st, 2009 by admin

The Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in North East DC was designed by Leo A Daly in 1999.  This ultra modern yet reverent presentation aligns the academic study of theology with the memory of man whose life is examined through the display of the personal effects of his human life.  12 visiting scholars inhabit the Intercultural Forum on the top story as members of an endowed think tank dedicated to contemporary cultural issues.  In another area of the building, a small gallery space houses photographs and and objects from the pontificate’s long and enriched life.  Items like his dining room place settings as well as bodily ornaments are on display for us to experience some of his day to day identity.   These two activities, on the one hand the maintenance of shrine to a sovereign figurehead, and on the other the progressive dialectic of  a community of modern scholars would be seemingly incongruous.  However they exist harmoniously in parallel under the single floating roof.

Note the child in the second image.