Church Doesn't Want to be Saved; Brutalism Goes To Court

church washington to be demolished photo

We have noted previously that I.M. Pei's Church of Christ Scientist in Washington is under threat of demolition; Brutalism isn't in style these days and Churches don't have a lot of money, and they want to tear it down. The City says it is of historic importance.

Now, according to the New York Times, the Church as filed suit against the City, "accusing it of trammeling religious freedom by declaring the church a historic landmark and refusing to allow church leaders to tear it down." and now, design is on trial.

The Church says "We believe this brutalist, unwelcoming, bunkerlike building is not a proper representation of our practice or our theology and, that without a compelling government interest, our members, not the Historic Preservation Review Board, are in the best position to determine that representation."

i m pei church interior photo

Church Interior

David Maloney, State Preservation Officer for the District of Columbia, responds "Third Church is a rare Modernist church in the city," Mr. Maloney said, "and the complex possesses amazingly high integrity (in all respects: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association), down to the original carpeting and seat upholstery in the church auditorium."

churchconverted to bookshop photo

Church Converted into Bookshop

It is an old story playing out around the world; churches are big while congregations are getting small, so they sell out to developers who build them a smaller church and give them a whack of dough that covers operating costs. In many cases the church is converted to condos or offices; in Europe it is almost impossible to demolish one, and it Toronto they are prized as lofts. Here, it was just going to be knocked down for offices and retail (and a smaller church.)

church converted to residence photo

Chapel Converted to Residence

We say there is almost no building that cannot be repurposed and restored, put to an imaginative new use, and that demolition is a crime. (Or in the case of a church, a sin.) As Professor Richard Longstreth of George Washington University says:

"This is a major work of architecture,and given that, it is worth the effort to work with anybody and everybody so that the church can afford it, and it can be saved for posterity." ::New York Times
More on the I.M. Pei Church
Landmarks, not Landfill: I.M. Pei Church in Washington Under Threat
Ban Demolition!
\Big Steps in Building: Ban Demolition
Ban Demolition , Especially by Greedy Universities
Demolition by Neglect: Use It or Lose It
Preservation is Sustainability

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