Third Church of Christ, Scientist, Gets Green Light for Demolition

Third Church of Christ, ScientistLate last week, the Third Church of Christ, Scientist won their court battle against preservationists seeking to prevent them from razing their Brutalist building on 16th and I Streets, NW. I’m deeply saddened that this structure may soon be only a memory.

While I sympathize with the congregation and agree that they should not be saddled with maintenance and upkeep for a building that is so completely ill suited to their needs as this building, the structure falls into a small percentage of building I actually consider “true architecture”.

There were once many churches of Christ, Scientist, throughout the country built in the Brutalist style. One by one they are being wiped off the face of the map. I first became aware of them as a student at the University of Illinois. There was a Brutalist church on the northwest corner of  E. Gregory Dr. and S. 4th Street. I learned quickly that it was on the National Register of Historic places … and then it seemed that just as quickly I saw it knocked down and replaced by an apartment building.

I certainly wouldn’t argue that Brutalism is beautiful. But I do equate many of these structures as high art. They were designed for their purposes, locations, and with artistic expression in mind. The fact that we argue on if they should be saved or if they are attractive validates that they are successful artistic/architectural expressions.

That we will loose a unique and controversial part of our landscape in the continued march toward mediocre, cookie cutter buildings saddens me, but like everyone else, I’ll get past it and move on.


5 Responses to “Third Church of Christ, Scientist, Gets Green Light for Demolition”

  1. Mike Licht Says:

    There were complications on the legal and financial side, chief among them the fact that the church does not own the land on which the building stands. As I understand it, part of the structure was to be used by the DC bureau of the Christian Science Monitor and its radio unit, plans which did not materialize.

    As for adaptive re-use, the heap could be hauled out near I-95 to store road salt for winter or converted into a tourist attraction, The Maginot Line Experience.


  2. I sympathize with your position, but feel the need to point out that there’s very little about brutalism worth praising or remembering. The cathedral of Notre Dame will continue to stand. Trinity Church in Boston will continue to stand. The La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona will continue to … well, be built. The Third Church of Christ Scientist will be razed, and its recycled concrete will end up in asphalt paved roads because unlike the other three examples, it sucks.

  3. Keith, it seems we have something in common. Your views on brutalism seem to mirror mine on the Victorian period. I’ll accept that the Third Church is going to be nothing but a memory (if that) in time … but I have a hard time with all the compromised structures that must be saved because they are old. Age alone does not, or should not, make something worthy of protection and saving for future generations.

  4. Keith Tynan Says:


  5. I agree with the thought that this Brutalist church was an attempt at High Art. I’m glad the attempt was made. There are some redeeming values to it looking from the outside. But it has proven to a be a failure in its mission. Buildings are not just to look at; they have to function on a day to day basis. This one obviously doesn’t.

    This is where preservation gets tricky. If you build a building that has some interesting features but is a dismal failure in its’ actual use, you could be stuck with a turkey of a building because of someone else.

    It is better to attempt the High Art and let it fail or succeed on its’ own merits. Preservation like this makes it MUCH harder for someone to take the risk because they can get stuck with a turkey of a building they can’t get rid of down the road.

    3rd Church could not be blamed if it replaces this structure with something very middle-of-the-road. They have been burned badly for going out on a limb (sorry about the mixed metaphors.)

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