Docomomo DC Supports Designation of NSGA and NRMCA Headquarters

In late September, Docomomo DC sent a letter to the the Historic Preservation ProgramMontgomery County Planning Department, urging support for the historic designation of the National Sand & Gravel Association (NSGA) and National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) Headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. Located at 900 Spring Street in Silver Spring, Montgomery County, the NSGA and NRMCA Building has recently been listed for demolition, which Docomomo DC opposes.

Below are excerpts from that letter, outlining Docomomo DC's support for historic designation:

The NSGA and NRMCA Headquarters is an outstanding example of brutalist architecture in the county and region. “Brutalism” takes its name from the French “béton brut” or “unfinished concrete.” The building’s exposed aggregate texture, bold form, and cantilevered structure reflect the material properties of concrete and, in doing so, epitomize the brutalist style. In 2017, Docomomo DC’s annual Tour Day event focused on brutalism. Through a tour of brustalist architecture, we argued that, while it is style everyone loves to hate, brutalism marks an important period in the history of design and in the architectural legacy of Washington, DC and the region. Recent demolitions of brutalist buildings in Washington, DC and Maryland have shown that now is the time to reevaluate and celebrate this architecture. The NSGA and NRMCA Headquarters is an excellent example of brutalism in Montgomery County that should, too, be reevaluated and celebrated.

Concrete was not just the form, but also the NSGA and NRMCA Headquarters’ reason for being. The NCRMA was organized to “protect the welfare and best interest of those engaged in the production and sale of ready mixed concrete.” To quote Clare Kelly, a former Docomomo DC board member, in her book Montgomery Modern: Modern Architecture in Montgomery County, Maryland, 1930-1979: “the exuberant design of the building is a three-dimensional advertisement for the business.” In turn, the building represents not only the architectural style of the day but also the corporate culture of mid-century Silver Spring.

Lastly, the NSGA and NRMCA Headquarters reflects the art of Washington, DC craftsman John Earley and his studio. In the early twentieth century, John Earley developed unique and innovated ways to work with concrete, exposing its aggregate to reveal deep color and texture. His work is found throughout Washington and Maryland including in the walls, balusters, and fountains at Meridian Hill Park and in the bold mosaic on the Scottish Rite Temple on Sixteenth Street. His studio was hired to produce the NSGA and NRMCA Headquarters precast panels, using their exposed aggregate technique.

The NSGA and NRMCA Headquarters and its concrete form embodies brutalism, an architectural style deployed around the globe, in service of national associations and expressed through a regionally developed concrete technique. For these and other reasons outlined in the staff report, Docomomo DC believes the NSGA and NRMCA Headquarters should be designated, protected, and celebrated.

Updates will be posted as they are available. Photos by Michael Shapiro.

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