Robert C. Weaver Federal Building: rethinking a brutalist icon
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Robert C. Weaver Federal Building: rethinking a brutalist icon

A project for the adaptive reuse of this Washington DC building, designed by Marcel Breuer in 1968, features in the Brutal DC exhibition, at the Southern Utah Museum of Art until March 2, 2024

Brooks+Scarpa

Robert C. Weaver Federal Building: rethinking a brutalist icon
By Editorial Staff -

A mixed-use structure with office spaces, over three hundred residential units, and a series of community services, with greenery as a recurring theme running throughout the project – this is the vision behind Brooks + Scarpa’s project for the adaptive reuse of the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, a brutalist icon designed by Marcel Breuer in Washington DC in the late 1960s as the headquarters of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Brooks + Scarpa is presenting its design proposal as part of Brutal DC, an exhibition on at the Southern Utah Museum of Art until March 2, 2024. The exhibition includes archival documents, reinterpretations, and photographs that chronicle the historical roots, current state, and potential of Washington DC's most important brutalist buildings.

 

The Robert C. Weaver Federal Building: a brutalist icon

Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, Brooks + Scarpa Rendering courtesy of Brooks + Scarpa

Built in 1968, the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building was designed by one of the masters of 20th century architecture and design, Marcel Breuer. After the Second World War, the brutalist style had taken hold in Europe and abroad as both an architectural and social revolution. With its massive, geometric prefabricated reinforced concrete façade extending for the full ten floors, the building became a landmark on the Washington DC skyline. And because it was used as the headquarters of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), it was visited by hundreds of people every day.

Since the 1960s, social dynamics have changed significantly, and, especially after the pandemic, the home-office-home routine has largely given way to hybrid and remote forms of work. As a result, large central areas of cities that are mainly occupied by office buildings are gradually being abandoned and the buildings emptied. This situation has required – and increasingly requires – innovative solutions to repurpose existing buildings and revitalize these large downtown areas.

Brooks + Scarpa’s project for the adaptive reuse of the Weaver HUD Building brings together a number of solutions, with the introduction of affordable housing and the extensive use of greenery as a unifying and identifying element for the complex.

 

>>> Also discover Magnolia Hill, a mixed-use structure designed by Brooks + Scarpa in Los Angeles

 

The solution at the core of the building

Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, Brooks + Scarpa Rendering courtesy of Brooks + Scarpa

The situation that Brooks + Scarpa had to deal with was both complex and challenging, with numerous boxes needing to be ticked, including energy efficiency, revamped HVAC systems, improved natural light for the residences, and the preservation of the building’s iconic architectural identity. The architects’ proposal involves “emptying” the core of the building so as to create a hybrid mixed-use space, between inside and outside, to act as a central courtyard and distribution hub for the entire complex.

The shape of the structure, a kind of X with a central core that extends longitudinally, made it possible to create two separate wings, one for offices and the other for the 350 residences. Now occupying 45% of the space previously used for offices, these rent controlled homes feature flexible plans inspired by the cohousing model, with community living and cooking spaces, and private sleeping spaces. The residential units can also be dismantled and converted back into offices if needed.

 

Community spaces

Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, Brooks + Scarpa Rendering courtesy of Brooks + Scarpa

The nucleus of the complex has been conceived as a space that can also be used by the public. It comprises a kind of cascade of outdoor terraces, which open the closed and massive building façade. The north and south façades have therefore been redesigned to allow a connection with the outside and bring natural light into the building. To the east and west, the original façades designed by Breuer have been maintained.

The central courtyard includes a series of lower structures for community use. Glass walls connect them with their surroundings, while plantings are used as a unifying element throughout the project. A series of flowing pathways and suspended walkways offer an overview of the entire complex.

Credits

Location: Washington DC, USA
Architect: Brooks + Scarpa 

All images courtesy Brooks + Scarpa
 

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