New Book Explores the Career of U.S. Tax Court Architect Victor Lundy
In October 2018, Princeton Architectural Press will release Victor Lundy: Artist Architect, edited by Donna Kacmar. This will be the first book-length monograph on Victor Lundy (b. 1923), an important, but perhaps under-appreciated, modern architect. The book will feature original drawings, sketches, and paintings, many of which will be published for the first time. The release of the book is an opportunity to look at what is perhaps Lundy’s best-known work and his only project in Washington, D.C. – the U.S. Tax Court.
Completed in 1974, the U.S. Tax Court Building is a work of distilled form and structural innovation. The building, located at 400 2nd Street Northwest, is set back at the end of a landscaped plaza that establishes its formal entrance. Lundy’s design is an abstract, sculptural composition of connected blocks. The five-story building consists of a one-story podium, atop which sit four granite blocks connected by a narrow, four-story central public hall. The central hall is flanked by three four-story masses to the north, south, and west that house offices. Projecting from the hall’s east wall is a two-story block that cantilevers over the entrance to the public hall. This is made possible through an elaborate scheme in which the 4,000-ton volume, which houses the courtroom, is supported by steel post-tensioning cables and roof-level structural bridges. Bronze-tinted glass curtain walls make up the street-facing façades of the three office blocks, as well as the central hall’s front (east) façade. The rest of the exterior, including the courtroom block, is clad with flame-treated, Royal Pearl granite. Stretching across the entire length of the east façade’s glass wall is a ceremonial, granite stair that accesses the public hall.
Lundy was a student of Walter Gropius at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and was part of a generation of architects—including Louis Kahn, Eero Saarinen, and Paul Rudolph—who sought bold forms that challenged the ubiquitous glass box of International-Style modernism. Much of Lundy’s early work was in designing churches and residences in Florida, New York, and Connecticut. Lundy and Rudolph were part of a group of Florida modernists who became known as the Sarasota School.
Lundy’s church projects, in particular, were characterized by unique (at times expressionist) forms and by the architect’s developing interest in experimental structural systems. For the Unitarian Meeting House in Hartford, Connecticut (completed in 1964), for instance, Lundy envisioned a circular worship space from which radiated vertical concrete fins that supported the roof with a system of steel cables. He was selected to design the chancery for the U.S. embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka (designed in 1964, constructed in 1984).
In 1965, Lundy was given the commission for the U.S. Tax Court without a competition. His innovative design reflected the goals espoused in the “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture,” a report commissioned by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which manages the government's portfolio of buildings. The document called on the federal government to hire architects who were at the forefront of contemporary architectural thought. When it was completed, the U.S. Tax Court received wide appreciation among the architectural press. Lundy went on to design a number of additional churches, schools, and office buildings across the country.
The U.S. Tax Court was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in August 2008. The GSA released a documentary film about the architect in 2014 entitled Victor Lundy: Sculptor of Space, which you can view below: