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. 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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