A District preservation board yesterday conferred landmark status on a 36-year-old downtown church, despite opposition from congregants and community leaders, who dismiss the building as an architectural blight.
The Historic Preservation Review Board's 7 to 0 ruling bars the Third Church of Christ, Scientist from redeveloping the fortresslike sanctuary at 16th and I streets, two blocks north of the White House.
Although several board members expressed reservations about the church's modernist appearance, they said the building is among the city's most significant examples of Brutalism, an architectural movement of the 1950s and 1960s that espoused the use of roughly cast concrete.
The church was designed by Araldo Cossutta, who worked with renowned architect I.M. Pei's firm.
"You don't necessarily have to like it, but you can learn enough to have an appreciation for it," said board member Denise Johnson.
"It's both dysfunctional and poorly designed, period," said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. "If this building is considered to be historic, then you can make the case for just about any building in the city."
Congregants said they were unsure whether they would appeal the ruling to preserve their octagonal home, with high, windowless walls, located on an unadorned plaza across from an accompanying seven-story office building. But they said it might be too costly to repair a 400-seat sanctuary that's no longer suitable for a church that draws 40 to 60 Sunday worshipers.
In a November report considering Third Church of Christ, District officials wrote that they "rarely" endorse landmark designation when the property's owner is opposed.
But the officials wrote that the church deserves the status because it's "one of the best examples of Brutalism in the Washington area and one of the most important Modernist churches," a view echoed in letters that architects and historians sent to the board.