Brutalism in D.C.

Hubert H. Humphrey Building. ©Miki Jourdan

April is Architecture Month, so we’re taking a look at Brutalism – the style that you either love or hate that dominated much of D.C.’s imagination in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Even if you are not a fan (many of us are!), here are some things about the buildings to appreciate:

The views

Many Brutalist buildings are structured so that there are interesting layered views and perspectives.

L’Enfant Plaza ©Victoria Pickering
View of the non-Brutalist Smithsonian through the Brutalist L’Enfant Plaza entryway ©Miki Jourdan
National Presbyterian Church. ©Miki Jourdan
L’Enfant Plaza. ©Victoria Pickering
Hirshhorn Museum. ©Victoria Pickering

The windows

Brutalist buildings have windows that are a perfection of symmetry.

Washington Hilton. ©Victoria Pickering
Housing and Urban Development. ©Miki Jourdan
The Farragut Building ©Victoria Pickering
Hirshhorn Museum ©Victoria Pickering
Watergate ©Victoria Pickering

The details

Every detail in a Brutalist building is designed to complement the starkness and functionality of the whole.

L’Enfant Plaza. ©Victoria Pickering
Outdoor staircase, UDC. ©Victoria Pickering

The eeriness

At night, Brutalist buildings have a wonderful ominous look.

D.C. Firehouse, 5th St. ©Miki Jourdan
Gelman Library, George Washington University. ©Victoria Pickering


And of course there’s Metro, where the concrete and Brutalist lines extend everywhere.

List of Brutalist buildings

There are a lot of Brutalist buildings in D.C. and varying opinions on which are the best and the worst. Here’s a good sample of the range of Brutalist buildings:

Hirshhorn Museum

Architect: Gordon Bunshaft
Completed 1974

Hubert H. Humphrey Building

200 Independence Avenue, SW 
Completed 1976
Architect: Marcel Breuer

The Farragut Building

900 17th St NW
Completed 1963

The Robert S. Strauss Building

1333 New Hampshire Avenue
Completed 1978

D.C. Jail

1901 D St. SE
Completed 1976

National Presbyterian Church

4101 Nebraska Avenue NW
Architect: Harold E. Wagoner
Completed 1969

Wah Luck Apartment Building

800 6th St. NW
Architect: Alfred H. Liu
Completed 1982, in less than a month, built out of pre-fab components

Johns Hopkins School of Advance Studies

1740 Massachusetts Avenue
Completed 1962

UDC Campus

Completed 1976-1981

Russian Embassy

2650 Wisconsin Avenue
Architect: Michael Posokhin
Completed 1985

DCFC Engine 2 Rescue 1

500 F St. NW
Completed 1979

Washington Hilton

1919 Connecticut Avenue
Architect: William B. Tabler, Sr.
Completed 1965

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

1900 E St NW
Architects: Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum and Loebl, Schlussmann & Bennett
Completed 1963

J. Edgar Hoover Building

935 Pennsylvania Avenue
Architect: Charles F. Murphy
Completed 1975

Arena Stage

6th and M. St. SW
Architect: Harry Weese
Completed 1961

Watergate complex

Virginia and New Hampshire Avenue
Architect: Luigi Moretti
Completed 1971


Initial construction 1969-1976
Primary architect: Harry Weese

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

1700 G St. NW
Completed 1976

Gelman Library at George Washington University

2130 H St. NW
Architect: Mills, Petticord & Mills
Completed: 1971

L’Enfant Plaza complex

Overall design created by I.M.Pei & Partners

L’Enfant Plaza South Building

490 L’Enfant Plaza SW
Architect: Araldo Cossutta, at I.M. Pei
Completed 1965

Forrestal Building/Department of Energy

1000 Independence Avenue SW
Architect: Curtis and Davis
Completed: 1970

Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Completed 1977
Architect: Marcel Breuer and Associates

Housing and Urban Development

451 7th St. SW
Completed 1968
Architect: Marcel Breuer and Associate

Join the Conversation


    1. Completely agree – not being a DC regular, I would never have appreciated the design or the resultant architectural gems that exist within these buildings…
      Instead, as a tourist driving through the area (not walking much, except in the heart of the mall, for example) we could never have appreciated the stairs, pathways, views…
      now with more time and not carrying toddlers or adolescents, we will look again!

    1. The term Brutalism was coined by a British architecture critic, referencing the term “beton brut” (meaning raw concrete in French), which characterized the work of Le Corbusier. It was not meant favorably.

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