Future of Brutalist-Designed Church not Concrete

I thought this was an interesting story about an area where the government is permitted to restrict freedom of religion: architecture.

In this case, the Third Church of Christ, Scientist would like to tear down its church, but is unable to because of its status as a historic landmark. Some church members claim this infringes on their freedom to practice religion as they see fit.

But it’s going to be tough to win in court. Robert Tuttle, a church-state expert at George Washington Law School, says cost and inconvenience are not enough. The church must show its expression of religion is “substantially burdened.”

Courts have different standards on what that means, but often it’s a high bar. Namely, he says, church members must show they cannot practice the religion without overhauling or demolishing it.

"If it’s restrictive, the court may say, ‘You haven’t shown us that there’s no other way to make use of this space, whether giving it to someone else, or making minor alterations to the outside that will allow you to make a more attractive use of it.’ "

Tuttle notes that this happens all the time, leaving property owners helpless. But it’s the price of preserving a piece of history.

The examples of Brutalism they show in the accompanying slide show are interesting. Certainly most brutalist buildings are not pretty, although I thought the Geisel Library in slide 7 was nice enough.

When it’s not used for buildings, I think the style can be much more effective. The DC subway (slide 4) is one of the more attractive subways I’ve been in. The concrete walls are very utilitarian, but the subdued lighting and large scale of the tunnels give a calming feel that is much more appropriate than some other subways that are a bit too dolled up for their purpose.

Likewise, the fountain in slide 8 doesn’t distract from the flowing water - the purpose of a fountain - in the way some more elaborately decorated fountains do.

I love the Geisel Library! For some reason it screams Dr. Seuss to me.

I’m not sure if the Iowa State Center at Iowa State University is strictly “Brutalist” – I find the buildings rather graceful instead of blocky – but it’s built using the poured concrete method that is the Brutalist trademark. You can see photos of all the buildings on this PDF file: center.iastate.edu/newsite/about/Facts.pdf


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