Balancing preservation and progress

A Washington, D.C., church building is caught in the crossfire in a war between a congregation looking to move ahead and preservationists wanting to preserve the past.


According to a Christian Science Monitor article , the Washington, D.C., Third Church of Christ Scientist is the star of an ongoing drama between the past and the future.

The struggle is being repeated across the country, as communities fighting to preserve historic buildings are facing off against religious congregations that want to modify or tear down their buildings. Clashes have grown over the past 20 years, since the passage in the 1990s, with the passage of federal laws aimed at protecting religious institutions from land-use restrictions that interfere excessively with their "free exercise" of religion.

The Christian Science congregation, blocks from the White House, wants to tear down the modernist-architecture structure and put up a new church that is more energy-efficient and suitable for its needs.

"We want a church that is welcoming and fits the scale of the community, one that does not give the secretive, enclosed impression that this Brutalist building does," said J. Darrow Kirkpatrick, the church's coordinator for redevelopment.

Standing in the way: the District of Columbia's historic preservation board, which designated the church a historic landmark in December 2007 because it stands as a strong example of Brutalism, an architectural style involving raw concrete and monolithic forms. After the board turned down the church's request to raze the building in July 2008, the church filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the landmark restriction, alleging violation of two religious freedom laws and the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment.

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