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Trump may want to redo the FBI’s brutalist HQ



fbi hq
general view of the J. Edgar Hoover building, the FBI’s
Washington, DC, headquarters.


  • President Donald Trump reportedly wants to

    remodel the FBI headquarters
    in Washington,

    news website Axios
    Sunday night.
  • An anonymous source
    Axios that Trump called the complex “one of the
    ugliest buildings in the city.”
  • The FBI headquarters is brutalist, an architectural
    style that rose to prominence in the 1950s after architect
    Le Corbusier completed his Unité
     in France with unfinished
    concrete instead of steel. 

  • Brutalist design is one of the most contentious
    architectural styles. Le Corbusier intended for brutalism to
    exude democracy, honesty, and security, which could be why the
    FBI chose it for its HQ. But today, many consider brutalist
    buildings eyesores.

President Donald Trump reportedly despises the look of
the FBI headquarters at the J. Edgar Hoover Building in
Washington, DC. He also reportedly hopes to remodel the complex,
which Axios’ Jonathan Swan
Trump is “obsessed” with.

“Honestly, I think it’s one of the ugliest buildings in the
city,” Trump said, according to a source that spoke with
“The building is terrible … It’s one of
the brutalist-type buildings, you know, brutalist

Brutalism rose to prominence in the 1950s after
architect Le Corbusier completed his first building in France
under Unité
, a design principle for brutalist
residential housing. Although steel was more common at the time,
he decided to use unfinished concrete. A hulking concrete
structure with repeated, geometric windows on all sides, the FBI
HQ features a similar raw, industrial style.

Brutalist buildings are often controversial because they’re not
particularly pleasant to look at, according to traditional
beauty standards. They refute the western idea of
architectural beauty typically found in museums, capitols, train
stations, and old churches. Brutalism is much more uniform. As
you can see below, besides the pops of color, Le
Corbusier’s Unité
buildings look very similar to the FBI

Le Cité Radieuse, the
third of Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation buildings, in Briey,

Cottrell &

While the complex is not traditionally beautiful, there’s
probably a reasonable explanation for why its lead designers,
Charles F. Murphy, Stanislaw Z. Gladych, and Carter H.
Manny, Jr., chose a brutalist design (besides the fact that it
was built in the late ’60s, when brutalism was becoming more

Architecture is meant to encourage certain kinds of feelings.
While an opera house may create a sense of grandeur, a post
office may want to communicate efficiency, and a coffee shop may
be designed to make customers feel a sense of homeyness.

As a civic agency, the FBI’s purpose is to investigate federal
crimes and prevent terrorism — and its headquarters was likely
designed with this mission in mind. The building makes those on
the ground feel smaller, with a kind of powerful, “don’t mess
with me” attitude. Similarly, the US government wants criminals
to know that they shouldn’t mess with the FBI. Another primary
function of the headquarters is to maintain security.

fbi hq 2
view of the courtyard at the J. Edgar Hoover building, the FBI’s
Washington, DC, headquarters.

Wikipedia Commons

It’s not clear if Trump would want the FBI HQ to look exactly
like a Trump Tower, but he reportedly told Chief of
Staff John Kelly he wants to remodel the “ugly” building with a
high level of detail.

Trump Towers have a completely different
function. Housing luxury offices, retail, and condos, the
shiny skyscrapers aim to portray affluence. In New York City,
Trump’s towers have a
few signature, gaudy motifs
: gold, glass, and

At the FBI building, architects Gladych, Murphy, and Manny
treated the design with care by primarily taking security and
cost into account. As explained
on the FBI’s site, for security reasons, access to the courtyard
is limited, and there are few doors to the first floor.
The Pennsylvania Avenue Advisory Council and
the National Capital Planning Commission also insisted on
using concrete as the building’s primary material, due to its low

Many other American civic buildings — especially city halls — are
brutalist and have been met with similar contention. Boston City
Hall is so unpopular that
several mayors have pleased residents
with (unfulfilled)
promises to demolish and rebuild it. After the Yale
School of Architecture built a new brutalist building for
the campus in 1963, many students hated it. One
student allegedly
tried to burn it down in 1969

The word “brutalism” comes from the French word, “brut,” which
means “raw.” This may confuse the average person, because in
English, brutalism sounds a lot like “brutal,” a word that
carries negativity.

In a
2013 article
in a publication called CLOG, architectural
critics Michael Kubo, Chris Grimley and Mark Pasnik
explain how the general public’s view of brutalist architecture
may have changed over time.

“Originally seen to reflect the democratic attributes of a
powerful civic expression — authenticity, honesty, directness,
strength — the forceful nature of Brutalist aesthetics eventually
came to signify precisely the opposite: hostility, coldness,
inhumanity,” they wrote. “Separated from its original context and
reduced in meaning, b
rutalism became an
all-too-easy pejorative, a term that suggests these buildings
were designed with bad intentions.”

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