10 Amazingly Wonderful Government Buildings and Public Art in DC

Yesterday, Buzzfeed took some of DC’s government buildings to task for being part of the brutalist architecture movement of the 1960s and ’70s, pointing out “the seven most heinous, unforgivable scars ever allowed to pollute our otherwise architecturally pleasant nation’s capital.”

GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini thanked the author for his interest in government buildings. We have asked Congress for funding to maintain and repair the federal buildings that we manage.

Johnson rightly points out that we do have an “architecturally pleasant” city, and here are some of the examples we love:

Eisenhower Executive Office Building

She Who Must Be Obeyed

Johnson thinks this work is “what happens when you let government lawyers commission art,” but when you walk around Tony Smith’s, She Who Must Be Obeyed, 1976, it assumes completely different silhouettes – just what art is supposed to do. 

Tony Smith, She Who Must Be Obeyed, 1976 Tony Smith, She Who Must Be Obeyed, 1976

Tony Smith, She Who Must Be Obeyed, 1976 Tony Smith, She Who Must Be Obeyed, 1976

All photos Carol M. Highsmith Photography



Jamie L. Whitten Federal Building (Dept. of Agriculture)

This classical style building would set the standard for the large federal buildings of the early part of the twentieth century.

Exterior, Dept. of Agriculture building Whitten_Interior

The Robert C. Weaver Federal Building (Dept. of Housing and Urban Development)

Beauty is also in the eye of the beholder.

The HUD Building is a powerful sculptural form designed by Marcel Breuer, an internationally respected architect whose work had a profound impact on the course of Modern architecture. The HUD building’s dramatic use of reinforced concrete, geometric simplicity, and reduction of ornament exemplify the stark forms and raw surfaces of Modernism.

“Growth, Efficiency, and Modernism: GSA Buildings of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s” (p. 86-87)

The HUD Building Closeup, exterior of the HUD Building


U.S. Tax Court Building

Striking and bold, the building exemplifies the culmination of Modern design principles coupled with technological advances that allowed for a new type of building.

U.S. Tax Court, Washington, DC

The story of Victor Lundy, the architect who designed it, is as interesting as the building itself.

 More Great Public Art, From the Past and More Recently

Whether from the 1940s, ’90s or just last year, there is a wealth of public art for folks to experience just by walking around town.

Sculpture of man controlling a horse

Michael Lantz, Man Controlling Trade, 1942 (New Deal Commission)
Photo: Courtesy McKay Lodge Fine Arts Conservation Laboratory, Inc.
"Bearing Witness," sculpture
Martin Puryear, Bearing Witness, 1997 Commissioned by the Art in Architecture Program
Ronald Reagan Building
Photo:  Carol M. Highsmith Photography
Jacob Hashimoto's "Kites" at GSA HQ
Jacob Hashimoto, Kites, 2013
GSA Headquarters, 1800 F Street NW
Photo by GSA (Nicole Avila)

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

The Reagan Building and the Woodrow Wilson plaza work so well with the older buildings around them, you don’t even realize they’re new spaces.

Ronald Reagan Building

Old Post Office

Yes, it’s being transformed into a luxury hotel, but it’s still one of the most spectacular buildings around.

Old Post Office, Washington DC



What’s your favorite government building (whether in DC or elsewhere)? Share it with us on Twitter or Instagram using #BestGovBuilding (and tag us @usgsa).

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