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United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Building

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1963–1968, Marcel Breuer and Herbert Beckhard. 451 7th St. SW
  • United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Building

More than any other federal government edifice of the 1960s, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) building fulfills the directives President John F. Kennedy issued in an effort to improve the quality of public building design, “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture.” 41 For a city accustomed to boxy containers for federal workers, the HUD Building seemed a radical departure. It was also an important architectural statement for the newly created cabinet-level department that was devoted to upgrading the nation's cities and housing.

One of the world's leading architects, Marcel Breuer epitomized modernity. His body of work fit perfectly President's Kennedy's call for the “choice of designs that embody the finest contemporary American architectural thought.” Inspired in part by his buildings for UNESCO and IBM in France, Breuer's design for a ten-story structure resembled a curvilinear X. The four curved walls allowed for open plazas on each side and for optimal window-distance ratio while minimizing distances between offices and reducing the apparent length of corridors. The walls were fitted with precast window panels, each with recessed windows and a sharp diagonal slope behind the mullions. The building frame was made of a cast-in-place concrete “tree” that rested the bulk of the building on a series of stubby pilotis, or piers. It was the first federal office building to be made of precast concrete.

At completion, the HUD building was acclaimed for its imaginative plan and the boldness of the forms. It was, in fact, a major achievement and set a high standard for public buildings. A walk around the building provides an experience in architectural movement and drama that lifts it dynamically above its surroundings—the freeway to the south and the monolithic office buildings on the other three sides.

Notes

"Headquarters for HUD by Breuer and Beckhard: A Major Landmark for a Political Era Which Aspired to a Public Architecture of Quality," Architectural Record 144 (December 1968): 99–106.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee
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Citation

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Building", [Washington, District of Columbia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/DC-01-SW10.

Print Source

Buildings of the District of Columbia, Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 239-239.

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