Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
From the concrete vaults of Harry Weese’s Metro to Gordon Bunshaft’s doughnut-shaped Hirshhorn Museum, there’s no lack of heroic architecture to see in the nation’s capital.
Harry Weese once said about the metro system he designed for Washington, D.C.: “the Russians did it with marble, we did it with shadows.”
The path to building D.C.’s metrorail—one of the most expansive rapid transit systems in the United States—started with the signing of the National Capital Transportation Act of 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson. Weese, a confident and obsessive architect, gave the nation’s capital a distinctive design using concrete vaults to “induce an almost religious sense of awe,” wrote the New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp.
Weese’s work for Metro is D.C. Brutalism at its best (it’s even better when the trains are running), but there’s no lack of concrete architecture above ground, as well.
With photos and text by Deane Madsen, Blue Crow Media’s new Brutalist Washington Map highlights dozens of examples of heroic concrete designs from L’Enfant Plaza to Reston, Virgina. In the 1960s and ‘70s, new government buildings (including two by Marcel Breuer), a doughnut-shaped modern art museum by Gordon Bunshaft, and cult classics like George Washington University’s Gelman Library and Georgetown’s Lauinger Memorial Library, were built in D.C. While many have aged well, some won’t make it into the next decade, including the Third Church of Christ, Scientist—which was demolished in 2014—and the oft-maligned J. Edgar Hoover Building, which the FBI is scheduled to vacate in the next few years.
There are dozens more of such buildings to see on your next visit to D.C.—you just need this map and a SmartTrip card for Weese’s Metro.
Map, $10 at Blue Crow Media