This week The Washington Post Magazine contained an article on Brutalism… the architectural style, that is.
Washington D.C. has more examples of Brutalism than most U.S. cities – the Metro, the FBI headquarters, the Hirshhorn Museum, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development among many others.
Brutalist architecture emerged in the 1960s in “the era of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, when progressive designers wanted to create buildings that fit their vision of a strong and benevolent public sector.”*
Using raw concrete, monumental scale, deep set windows, sculptural forms, the irony of Brutalism is that its image of durability and strength seems to be neither. No longer fashionable, or resilient, no longer a vision embraced by the current electorate, the article suggests that rather than tearing down the buildings or preserving them just as they are – new life can be given by adapting these structures and by adding light and color.
Brutalist architecture is often judged ugly by a plethora of bad, cheap imitations rather than by the solid work of architects like Breuer or Miklos who have proven that these buildings have a future, transformed by low-cost changes.
The greater irony is that another brutalism is dominant in D.C. right now. The appropriate and benevolent role of government in economic and social democracy to address human need, is being brutally and intentionally torn down.
Public Schools, foundation of democracy, creators of opportunity for literally millions of children is now dubbed the “educational industrial complex,” and is being dismantled in the Trump/House Budget. “Parental choice” is used to “leverage pubic assets” for-profit ventures that have unproven and unaccountable results.
U.S. use of “hard power” global and domestic conflict engagement is assured by deep cuts to State Department, USAID, and Humanitarian assistance while greatly increasing military budget.
Environmental research and programs (in Science and Technology, NASA, EPA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, State, Energy, Interior, Homeland Security) have been severely cut, eliminated, or redirected and demonstrated in the removal of any reference to climate change on government websites and communications.
The Center for Disease Control is cut by 1.2 billion dollars. Elimination of Community Development block grants (to build and preserve housing, support first-time home buyers, open community centers with wrap around services for elders) will result in hundreds of thousands fewer affordable homes.
The President has praised Rodrigo Duterte’s “unbelievable job on the drug problem” in the Philippines while defunding the Office of National Drug Control Policy founded by Congress in 1988. Duterte has called for and initiated “the slaughter” of 3 million addicts.
These are among the few of the new structures of brutalism in D.C. today. We are met with smiling assurances that all will be well, that we all want the same thing, but are committed to different paths to get there.
I am convinced that the only way light and color can be added to these emerging brutalist structures is resistance and right relationship. We can resist and insist on accountability in every district and in the District of Columbia before the demolition of social wellbeing, opportunity, and common good in our country is completed by living our beliefs with focus, urgency, passion and compassion.
On our first day in D.C., Sandy Sorensen of UCC’s Justice and Witness described public policy as how we order our common life and faith-based advocacy as valuable to the body politic and to leaders not as a special interest, not narrow or self-interested, but as voices for the common good.
We also had the privilege of meeting with Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, U.S.A. who reminded us that if we are silent on social issues we are blessing the status quo.
*The Washington Post Magazine. May 28, 2017. Pages. 12-21