Wednesday, October 05, 2005

SW WASHINGTON: Representative Bureaucracy

IN TODAY'S Morning Roundup on DCist, Rob chose to feature this photo of one of the Federal Aviation Administration buildings at either 600 or 800 Independence Ave. SW as "a good visual metaphor for city's bureaucratic culture." Well, that may be true to a certain degree, but I can think of a dozen other buildings that better represent bureaucracy in the capital, or in the city's Southwest quadrant for that matter.

Although I have never been on the inside of this building, from the outside, it is perhaps the best-designed federal office building along Independence Avenue SW, after the Department of Agriculture (and that's only for the twin archways that span the avenue. The headquarters for the Health and Human Services Department, the Education Department (with that odd-looking red schoolhouse tent entryway) and the Energy Department probably better represent bureaucracy in an architectural sense. They're all dependent on concrete for their exteriors. They're also built as giant fortresses, with street-level bunkers and other visual obstacles that make the bureaucracy inaccessible to the people to which they are supposed to serve. Pity the workers inside who don't see much sunlight.

The FAA building is clad in marble and glass, and at least has a slightly more interesting window design. So to those walking or driving by, the architects had the imagination (and the government had the money) to build a flat facade of marble and glass that reflects light in various ways as the sun travels from east to west during the day. But for all we know, the interior hallways could have served as inspiration for Terry Gilliam's 1985 masterpiece "Brazil."

If you didn't know, the twin FAA buildings at 600 and 800 Independence Ave. SW now actually have twin names after years as being officially known as Federal Building 10-A and Federal Building 10-B. Last year, President Bush signed legislation designating the buildings as the Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright federal buildings.

And while the interior of the Nassif Building, which currently serves as Department of Transportation headquarters, is absolutely depressing (I once worked there), the interior courtyard and its fountain is surprisingly beautiful. Its blunt cross-shape, along with its strong vertical lines is beautiful during the day when the sun is out. (I'm not sure if the portabello mushroom sandwich woman is still there hawking her tasty sandwiches during the summer farmers market, but I think they're overpriced. But they are still quite good.)


At 11:12 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The FAA Building has a barber shop on the premises with pretty reasonable prices. It's a pain in the ass to get in now, make sure you have an appt. It should be in the phonebook under FAA Barber Shop. The barber's name is Ron.

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