Another one bites the dust: Giant FBI headquarters building likely to be demolished

FBI building
Public Domain FBI Building, Washington

Engineers measure concrete strength after 28 days of curing, but in fact it keeps curing forever, and actually absorbs carbon dioxide in the process. Who knew that those brutalist buildings that everyone loves to hate are actually CO2-sucking green buildings? Yet it is likely that the FBI headquarters will be demolished when a new suburban headquarters is built. Two million square feet of space and at barely 40 years old, the concrete is still curing. But architectural critic Witold Rybczynski says it's "is an eyesore and won’t be missed." He notes that before the modernist era, buildings were more flexible, like generic loft buildings.

“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.

Indeed it is. I get that this ain't the Pennsylvania Station, but it is a significant building, and it was built to last, to be literally bombproof. It was supposed to be friendlier; according to the FBI's history of the building, it was supposed to be " lined with shops and buildings with open arcades and courtyards. Because major parades marched down the avenue, all new buildings would have open second floors to accommodate spectators." These were all dropped for security reasons. Then they cheaped out on the usual materials used in Washington:

For reasons of economy, the approving agencies insisted upon poured concrete as the major outside building material. The concrete used for the FBI building contained an aggregate of crushed dolomite limestone, a unique composition. While contrasting with the traditional marble, granite, or limestone government buildings, it echoed a major architectural style of the 1960s.

And of course buildings designed in that major architectural style, Brutalism, are under threat everywhere.

Gensler Revision© Gensler

There have been proposals to adapt it to new uses, to soften it a bit and open it up to the public more, but it doesn't look like it is going to happen; even though the greenest building is the one already standing, it looks like this one won't be for long. To repeat the words of Witold, what a waste.

Tags: Ban Demolition | Green Building | Preservation

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