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Posted at 11:56 AM ET, 12/ 7/2010

Good planning, bad architecture

By Dan Malouff
Sometimes new buildings can be good for the city even though they're bad architecture. A proposed development that would cap I-395 in downtown Washington is a good example.

Good planning: Developers will soon deck over the open air portion of the Center Leg Freeway and construct on top of it 2.3 million square feet of mixed-use buildings, with office, residences, and retail. By topping the highway with real city blocks, the development will repair what is currently a huge gash in the city's urban fabric. The Union Station area will be connected with the rest of downtown, and instead of disparate neighborhoods we'll have one continuous, easier-to-navigate city. That's great news.

Bad architecture: The bad news is that the proposed buildings absolutely stink. They're banal glass boxes straight out of 1970. Plain boxy buildings aren't interesting to pedestrians, so they make the city seem dreary. One or two are no big deal, but a city full of them is a bad city. It's possible these buildings had to be value-engineered because of the cost of decking the highway, but considering the other recent buildings in Washington designed by the same architecture team, it seems more likely they're just not well conceived.

Note to the architecture world: No matter what you say on your Web sites, when you design a glass box you are not being "futuristic" or "state-of-the-art," or providing an "example of the very best office building design in Washington." You're also not building "of our time," as defenders of boring architecture often claim. On the contrary, you're designing buildings for 40 years ago that aren't interesting, aren't unique and just plain aren't good.

I love this development for what it accomplishes with regard to the city's urbanism, but I hate it for its utterly hackneyed, monotonous architecture.

Dan Malouff is an Arlington County transportation planner who blogs independently at BeyondDC.com. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Dan Malouff  | December 7, 2010; 11:56 AM ET
Categories:  D.C., HotTopic, Local blog network  
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