WASHINGTON (CN) – A church in the nation’s capital claims the designation of its building as a historic landmark unconstitutionally prevents it from demolishing a structure that was built in the style of “Brutalism” and is widely criticized as the “most unfriendly and depressing piece of spiritual architecture” in the city.
In a federal lawsuit, the Third Church of Chirst, Scientist, claims the landmark designation, made by the District of Columbia Historic Preservation Review Board, burdens congregants’ First Amendment right to freely exercise their religion in a suitable structure that does not resemble, as the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts described it, a “war time bunker.”
The building was built in the architectural style of Brutalism, which one commentator described as “the celebration of concrete,” the lawsuit claims.
The building’s designer, Araldo Cossutta, had never built a church before, and when he finished in 1971, “it did not resemble a church,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit contains this description: “The building is a concrete octagonal tower. Its fortress-like façade features three massive, windowless, 60-feet-high concrete walls. … The Church contains a cavernous, disjointed auditorium that seats 400. The Church does not have a steeple. Instead, the church bells hang in two racks from a horizontal arm projecting from the side of the building.”
Third Church claims the building is inadequate to house its religious programs and congregation. Though the auditorium was built to seat 400, the “dark, broken-up and unfriendly atmosphere” allegedly draws only 40 to 60 Sunday worshippers.
The church challenges the city’s landmark designation process as illegal and unconstitutional, because it ignores the liberty protections afforded by the First Amendment, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The church seeks an order rescinding the landmark designation, allowing the plaintiff to raze the unsightly building.