Despite being a city of memorials, museums, and government buildings designed in grand and traditional architectural styles that speak to our nation's history and democracy, Washington, DC has plenty of modern architecture. Visitors may notice this modernism while using the Metro, with its stations and their famous vaulted, concrete ceilings. The system, which first opened from Rhode Island Avenue to Farragut Square in 1976 (the Red Line), was designed in a Brutalist style by architect Harry Weese. Despite their popularity on social media, these Metro stations are just one aspect of DC's modernism, which encompasses a variety of buildings designed by numerous architects of varying local, national, and international fame.
Despite its pre-World War II beginnings -- dating to 1919, with Germany's Bauhaus movement and its architecture school -- modernism became particularly popular in postwar America. Like many cities in the 1950s through 1970s, DC embraced the popular modernist styles of the era, such as Mid-Century Modern, Miesian, Brutalism, and New Formalism. Whether it was the federal government constructing a new courthouse or a homeowner who wanted some prestige, modern styles became very popular in the city. This tour will cover some of the most famous modern landmarks in postwar Washington, mainly in and around downtown.
As you follow along on the tour, what styles do you find particularly interesting, and do you think any buildings are missing from the list? Remember, modernism can be quite controversial and, unfortunately, it is not always saved from demolition. For example, please see Third Church of Christ, Scientist (available on DC Historic Sites) which was designed by the renowned I.M. Pei in the 1960s and demolished in 2014 -- despite being locally landmarked.
This tour can be completed by walking, public transport, and/or car. Since the landmarks are spread out, it is advised that you map out your route to determine distance before beginning.
In addition to this tour, please visit Mid-Century Modernism in Southwest, which covers some of the modernist landmarks in Southwest Washington, an area that experienced postwar urban renewal and, in turn, the construction of various Mid-Century Modern buildings.