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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Historic Preservation of Brutalist Architecture, With a Bonus RLUIPA Angle!

NPR has a great story about controversies arising out of the landmarking of a D.C. church that is an important example of Brutalist architecture.  An excerpt:

In Washington, D.C., about two blocks from the White House, there's a Christian Science church that looks more like a concrete fortress than a house of worship. The Third Church of Christ, Scientist — or the Third Church — is a hulking mass of raw concrete. There's one window, no steeple, and its bells are suspended from a slab of concrete that juts out from the side. . . .

The building was designed by Araldo Cossutta, who worked with I.M. Pei. It is a classic example of Brutalism, which was popular in the 1950s and 1960s but fell out of favor in the 1970s.

The concrete was poured on the spot, leaving a 60-foot-tall bunker that is hard to heat and harder to cool.

With eight sides of nearly identical concrete and a tucked-away entrance, it's also nearly impossible to find your way inside. . . .

In 1991 — unknown to the church's members — a group of preservationists applied to have the Third Church designated a historic landmark. From that moment, the congregation couldn't touch the building. Last year, the city made it an official landmark, and now the Third Church is suing to have the status removed.

Kirkpatrick says the restrictions infringe on their freedom of religion.

"Nothing expresses a church's religious exercise more than its architecture. And this architecture does not express our theology and our exercise. Brutalism is not our religious expression," he says.

Ben Barros

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