- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2006

Modernism has returned to architecture with a vengeance. Austere, glass-and-steel buildings, descendants of those from the 1950s and 1960s, are rising once again on skylines all over the country. Washington, a city always lagging behind design trends, is finally catching up with several low-rise examples of the mod revival. The best of these, opening this fall, make use of advanced glass technologies, achieving the lightweight, ethereal look that 20th-century architects like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe could only dream about.

In Europe, the modern movement never really died, as it did in this country when historicism took over architecture in the 1980s. So it’s unsurprising to find the latest iteration of modernism wholeheartedly embraced by diplomatic missions from across the Atlantic.

Swiss ambassador Urs Ziswiler and his wife Ronit have just moved into a new residence in Woodley Park that rivals the Finnish Embassy in its bold allure. New York architect Steven Holl, responsible for the contemporary art museum in Helsinki, and Justin Ruessli, a young Swiss architect who used to work for Mr. Holl, collaborated on the nearly 14,000-square-foot building, which officially opens with a public open house on Sept. 16.

The duo reconstitutes Switzerland’s familiar cross in a cruciform-shaped plan of apartments and reception rooms. On the exterior, sandblasted glass planks and dark gray concrete are meant to symbolize the snow-capped Alps. Veiled openings behind the translucent glass planks and transparent windows create an eye-catching play between clear and shadowy surfaces. Be sure to drive by when the ghostly facades are illuminated at night.

In Georgetown, the new embassy of Sweden also offers playful twists on modernist glass architecture, while tweaking Scandinavia’s timber tradition. It is sited on the Potomac next to Washington Harbour and sheathed in blond wood, fritted glass and glossy panels patterned to resemble wood grain.

Called the House of Sweden, the six-story box is designed by Swedish architects Gert Wingardh and Tomas Hansen to house corporate apartments as well as embassy offices, meeting rooms and gallery space. It will officially open with inaugural festivities held Oct. 21-23, including a visit by the king and queen of Sweden.

Several public exhibitions devoted to Swedish modern architecture and design, including an Ikea-furnished apartment, will be on display in the building from Oct. 25 to Dec. 15.

Another example of glassy modernist architecture worth noting is a 12-story office building at 1101 New York Ave. NW, scheduled for completion in late November. It is designed by the New Haven, Conn.-based architect Kevin Roche, the 1982 Pritzker Prize winner, for the Louis Dreyfus Property Group.

In this elegant building near the old convention center site, the 84-year-old Mr. Roche has achieved the sheer transparency that Mr. van der Rohe could only sketch. Floor-to-ceiling panels of nearly clear glass cover the exterior of the concrete structure above a granite base. Because there are no perimeter columns, spandrel panels or window mullions, the uninterrupted glass segments form an almostseamless, transparent envelope to give the building a crystalline appearance.

This fall, even the stalwart military is marching to a modernist beat. The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., now visible from Interstate 95, will open to the public on Nov. 13. Inspired by the photo of flag-raisers at Iwo Jima, the Denver firm Fentress Bradburn Architects has focused the 118,000-square-foot building on a huge skylight angled upward to a stainless-steel spire. Under the glassy crown is the Leatherneck Gallery, a round, travertine-covered space with fighter planes suspended from the ceiling.

Stainless-steel spires also rise from the Air Force Memorial on a promontory near the Pentagon. Envisioned by the late architect James Ingo Freed, whose creations include the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, the long-awaited monument will be dedicated on Oct. 14.

The abstract design centers on three huge tendrils, the tallest reaching 270 feet, that are meant to symbolize the vapor trails left by jets shooting into the sky.

Of course, this being Washington, the feds continue to embrace neoclassicism, albeitin a more streamlinedversion. Due to be dedicated in October is the seven-story addition to the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse on Pennsylvania Avenue. It will be named after the late William Benson Bryant, the first black chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Bryant annex is designed by Michael Graves, the Princeton architect known for his Target store designs, with barrel-vaulted bays and a drum-shaped rotunda, from which the federal judges will be able to view the Capitol.

Unfortunately, Mr. Graves has sapped the playfulness from his postmodernism in shaping the 1.35 million-square-foot Department of Transportation headquarters in Southeast, due to be completed in November.

Stretching along four city blocks next to the Navy Yard, the stark neoclassical pile conveys as much charm as a Stalinist apartment block. Saving it from total oppressiveness are its variegated colors — red sandstone, green metal, white marble and center promenade directed toward the Anacostia riverfront.

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