Civil Liberties

D.C. Government Protects "Brutalism" Over Religion


One of reason's mighty contributing editors, Charles Paul Freund, is over at the American Spectator today, with an interesting story on the eternally shifting nature of what government force will preserve–so long, of course, as those preservers are making sure that the desires or needs of those who own or use the building don't matter.

It's a tale of efforts to preserve a "brutalist" (the actual term for the style) Christian Science church in D.C. An excerpt:

If at first you don't at first recognize the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, as a church at all, don't be embarrassed; most people probably mistake it for a fortress intended to protect the president's house against a tank assault. It's a largely windowless octagonal tower made of raw, weathered concrete, and it's surrounded by a sterile "plaza" that seems to have been emptied to keep the line of fire clear. The site inspires few people with a sense of spirituality.

That includes its own congregation, which has always disliked the building and dearly wants to be rid of its ugliness and its crushing costs, but which has been prevented from replacing the structure by Washington's local preservation authorities.

Not that the church is either old or historic. It was designed in 1971….the project misfired. It's uninviting to the community not only because it has the feel of a bunker, but because its front door is, by design, hidden. The cold plaza is generally avoided by the church's neighbors.

The sanctuary seats 400, though the active congregation has shrunk to some 50 worshippers. The building's concrete exterior is already deteriorating, and the maintenance costs are overwhelming. Money that would be better spent on the church's mission, members say, is eaten up by the building itself.

Historical irony: it's exactly the sort of building that the historical preservationists of the early '70s fought against in order to preserve the older stuff it was displacing. 

Freund's extensive reason archives.