Brutalist buildings have been called ‘imposing monsters’ and yet they feature prominently in the architectural landscape of the nation’s capital. The National Building Museum uses this perspective as a launching point for its new exhibition, Capital Brutalism, which opens on Saturday, June 1, 2024. Co-organized with the Southern Utah Museum of Art (SUMA), Capital Brutalism is the largest-ever survey of Brutalist architecture in Washington, D.C. and will be on display at the Museum through Monday, February 17, 2025.

Capital Brutalism considers the historical underpinnings, current state, and future possibilities of Brutalist architecture by focusing on seven polarizing Brutalist buildings as well as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metro system in Washington, D.C. The exhibition uses archival documents, drawings, architectural models and contemporary photographs by Ty Cole to explore how the Brutalist phenomenon and these structures first emerged in the United States capital during the Cold War. Speculative redesigns by leading architecture firms including Studio Gang, Brooks + Scarpa, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Gensler, and BLDUS, along with students from the School of Architecture at University of Nevada, Las Vegas help reimagine potential futures for some of these buildings and invite visitors to consider how we can live with them in the future. 

The seven featured D.C. buildings include:

1.    Robert C. Weaver Federal Building (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development),

2.   Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

3.    Hubert H. Humphrey Building (U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Headquarters)

4.    Lauinger Library (Georgetown University Library)

5.    J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI Headquarters)

6.   James V. Forrestal Building (U.S. Department of Energy)

7.   The Euram Building in Dupont Circle


"As the only U.S. cultural institution dedicated to the built environment, we could not be more excited to open an exhibition that focuses on buildings right here in our own back yard!” said Aileen Fuchs, president and executive director of the National Building Museum. "Capital Brutalism promises to be a thought-provoking exploration of the architectural history, cultural significance, and the enduring legacy of Brutalist architecture, whose beauty often goes unnoticed, in Washington, D.C.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, Brutalist architecture flourished in Washington, D.C., as a cost-effective solution for public construction projects amid federal urban renewal initiatives. This period saw the emergence of iconic Brutalist landmarks like Marcel Breuer’s Weaver Building and I.M. Pei’s L’Enfant Plaza, as well as Interstate 395. However, this era of development also led to the displacement of thousands of residents and businesses, predominantly African American and immigrant families. Capital Brutalism meticulously documents this complex history through archival collections and scale models, shedding light on the social and architectural impact of Brutalism in the nation's capital.

Today, despite initial support, Brutalist buildings face widespread public aversion, with the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in D.C. labeled as one of the “ugliest” in the world. However, there's a growing appreciation for their cultural significance, leading to preservation battles. Looking to the future, numerous Brutalist buildings in Washington D.C. now face the decision of costly renovations or demolition. Renovation presents challenges due to the buildings' resistant nature to alterations, rigid floor plans, and complex environmental systems. However, preserving existing structures aligns with sustainability efforts and honors their architectural significance.

The exhibition aligns with the National Building Museum’s institutional pillars of Equity, Environment, Innovation and Wonder. Capital Brutalism fosters conversations around beauty and equity in urban development and challenges visitors to reconsider their perceptions.


Capital Brutalism is co-curated by Dr. Angela Person, associate professor of architecture at the University of Oklahoma, and architectural photographer Ty Cole.

Capital Brutalism is organized in collaboration with the Southern Utah Museum of Art.

The National Building Museum’s presentation of this exhibition was supported by AIA.


Brutalist Reimagining Contributors:

Studio Gang, including Jeanne Gang, Anika Schwarzwald, Alissa Anderson, Jay Hoffman, Austin Chod, and Manon Marimbert, as well as structural engineering consultants Joseph Burns and Thornton Tomasetti, and Labtop Rendering. 

Brooks + Scarpa, including Lawrence Scarpa, Ryan Clement, Iliya Muzychuk,Kiki Guo, Zongli Li, Ahmad Chehab, Matthew Hunt, Calder Scarpa, Karen Lopez, and Joseph Kim. 

Diller Scofidio + Renfro, including Elizabeth Diller, David Allin, Dustin Tobias, William Arbizu, James Brucz, Michael Etzel, Felipe Ferrer, Matthew Ostrow, and Haruka Saito.

BLDUS, including Andrew Linn,Jack Becker, Adam Ainslie, Chris Parschalk, and Theo Morrow 

Gensler, including John Adams, Jeff Barber, Shawn Gehle, Rob Jernigan, Li Wen, Christine Barber, Jessica Griese, Heidi Konieczka, Duncan Lyons, Carrie Morrison, Chris Rhoads, Raffael Scasserra, James Schrader, Colette Smith, Ruben Smudde, Darcey Thomson, and Tam Tran. 

University of Nevada – Las Vegas School of Architecture, including Joshua Vermillion and Eric Strain and their fourth-year architecture students, Dane Cobb, Cameron Reese, Devan Rendon, Kayla LaRose, Emmanuel Muñoz, Ivan Gonzalez-Vazquez, Richard Martinez, Alyanna Mercado, Trisha Sinamban, Maria Peniazek, Judy Shaban, and Fabio Menendez, whose work is featured in Capital Brutalism, and their many talented peers. 

Additional support was provided by Deane Madsen, founder of Brutalist DC; Richard Z. Hooker, graphic designer; University of Oklahoma Gibbs College of Architecture, including Haley Sandell, Makayla Zimmer, and Ashley Darden; University of Arizona College of Architecture, Planning & Landscape Architecture, including Eric Weber and Bret Smith; and many other members of the design and preservation communities.  


Extended Hours

To celebrate the opening of Capital Brutalism the Museum will remain open until 7 pm, on Monday, June 3, 2024.