hooverbuiling1The federal government is looking for a developer to build a new suburban home for the FBI. The old FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC is offered in exchange. A 41-year-old public building is going on the block. Admittedly the FBI headquarters (designed in 1975 by Charles F. Murphy & Associates) is an eyesore and won’t be missed (assuming it’s torn down, which seems to be its likely fate). But only 41 years! Washington is full of buildings that are two and three times as old. The first federal office building, the venerable Patent Office, designed by John Mills, opened in 1867 and still serves, albeit as an art gallery. I think that there are several reasons why so many public buildings from the 1970s have short lives. Architectural modernism promotes invention. An earlier generation would have built a generic loft building. Modernism required something more original, although the FBI building was inspired by Le Corbusier’s La Tourette Dominican priory—an odd model for a government office building. “Form follows function” is another reason for short life. Tailoring buildings for one use guarantees problems when they come to be repurposed in the future—as virtually all buildings are at some point. Concrete construction also doesn’t help, since it tends to create structures that are difficult to alter. And, not least, the ugly Brutalist style of the 1970s ensures that there will be no constituency militating for a building’s preservation (except for a few earnest architecture critics). What a waste.


  • emjayay says:

    Yes. It is certainly unecological to chuck a relatively new building and build a new one. That’s a lot of cubic feet in a landfill besides everything else. The reasons you mentioned are about all I thought of too.

  • emjayay says:

    Yes. The way things by the organizations inside buildings since computers, and other changes in how things are done just because of other changing technology and changing ways things are done etc., like in hospitals or factories seems to mean that a building entirely designed around one process won’t last that well. Easier to remodel and change around something more of a generic box. A really cool hospital tower – round with rounded wings? somewhere from around this period, maybe a bit earlier, was recently demolished. Although in that case a cool building was lost. Not so much with the FBI.

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