If you've been on Constitution Avenue lately to protest abortion rights, lack of abortion rights, wars in the Middle East, lack of wars in the Middle East, or Jay Leno taking over The Tonight Show (again!), you've likely noticed the construction at the corner of 23rd St NW. This spot marks the border of the National Mall, which means it would be an excellent spot for the new National California Tortilla. However, something called The United States Institute for Peace snapped up the real estate first.
The USIP is building their new Headquarters and Global Peacebuilding Center there, slated to open in 2011. As they put it, the Center will "house a Public Education Center, a research library and archives, classrooms, and a world-class conference center. It will be a powerful and lasting affirmation of the American people’s commitment to peace." It will also, as luck would have it, look great!
The institute tapped Moshe Safdie to design the building -- he's also behind the preposterously luxurious Marina Bay Sands Resort in Singapore, the awesome and boxy Habitat 67 complex in Montreal, and the admittedly EPCOT-y ATF Headquarters in DC. Safdie's fixation on the interaction between natural light and his buildings often makes them, you know, nice to look at; what's more, his love of playing with the separation between public and private space would seem to make him the perfect architect for a pseudo-governmental building in Washington, where serious business will be balanced against an open invitation to the public to come hang out and take in some exhibits and lectures. Even better, Safdie's Palestinian-born, and holds citizenship in the US, Canada, and Israel. It's almost like he's a walking Institute for Peace, himself! Look at the way the light interacts with the public/private space of his impressive mustache:
The USIP posits that Safdie's design "will consist of three distinct sections linked together by atriums covered by large-span undulating roofs. The building’s roofs form a dramatic series of wing-like elements constructed of steel frames and white translucent glass." I like the roof construction, and I think it gets at the feeling of flight without -- take some notes for your next building, loyal reader Moshe Safdie -- going too heavy on the Our Roof Looks Like a Floating White Dove idea. It's clean, impressively dramatic, and eye-catching without seeming overly ostentatious in the comparably simplistic Constitution Ave (and, yeah, DC) aesthetic. All that white and open space makes the building fit unintrusively with its neighbor, the Lincoln Memorial, while its heavy emphasis on clear glass gives it a contemporary edge sorely lacking in DC's public image as a Greco-Roman city on the hill.
Though the facade's coming together nicely, as you can see from the street as you drive by, we can't go inside yet. We'll have to wait to get a taste of how the atrium hits the eye from the inside, as well as what the various exhibition and conference halls end up looking like. Still, it's exciting to have DC back on the architectural map, even slightly. I look forward to helping Safdie clean off the egg from Teabagger protests. Here, here!
Saturday, April 3, 2010
RE: Moshe Safdie's Building for Peace
As soon as I saw Corey’s post I thought, “DC is getting an Epcot?” So I was doubly disappointed when I found out that a) I was wrong and b) Corey already used that joke. It is cool looking, but seriously, doesn’t all that white get dirty in a city? Don’t Apple products have the same problem? Can’t we come up with a more interesting and care-friendly color to make us feel powerful and progressive? Can I use a bleach stick on it? It kind of looks like a space colony. All our science fiction of advanced, human-like aliens from the future is really a projection of how we want the aliens to think of us when we meet. Dear DC: The Institute for Peace comes in peace. And we’re cool and moral and high-tech.
While Corey has already revealed his hipster-envy of the sexy “ménage-a-everyone” city life, I’d rather crawl into a ball under my bed. I have a fetish for glamour, yes, but cities are loud and I get lost easily. They make me want to cover my ears and quiver my lip like a child in an amusement park. I think the last time I trekked the few miles from Fairfax to DC was in the fall. John Taggart was doing an American Hybrid Reading at Bridge Street Books. Not many things entice me the way John Taggart's poetry does.
Highjinx and my antisocial tendencies aside, I do like that the building is so airy. Open yet constructed space is so lovely and, yes, peaceful. It looks like I’d feel held within some safe, pleasant bounds but not in an institutional way. (But maybe an enjoying-the-high-of-the-blue-pill kind of way?) Because, doesn’t there seem to be something ironic about our need for an Institute for Peace? It is a noble endeavor, and I like the public/private dynamic that Corey discussed; I’m just a poet thinking poetically here. I think I should write a poem called “Institute for Peace.” I think you should, too.