July 17, 2014

The ugliness of the federal government....

... visualized concretely.

38 comments:

Hagar said...

"Cement" is the grey, powdery stuff that holds Portland cement concrete together.

Bill Harshaw said...

Yes. Architects in the 60's and 70's committed great crimes, and often created buildings which were hard to maintain. (I seem to remember the John Hancock building in Boston, where the windows kept falling out--another example of government misdeeds, I'm sure.) But every time Congress wants to "save" money, maintenance is the first item to be cut (this applies both in the military and civilian agencies). The results are the same as if you never did routine maintenance on your car: costly and unsightly.

MadisonMan said...

More like the Ugliness of 1970s architecture.

The Drill SGT said...

Of those, the FBI building is the most functionally designed. Hoover had a hatred for left wing commie demonstrators, so the JE Hoover building was built like a castle to repel attackers. features like:

1. a dry moat around 3 sides.
2. no ground floor windows
3. narrow stairs from the street to the building, over the moats which are easily defended.
4. an open second story that resembles a parapet, so your troops can shoot down at attackers pounding on the blank first floor walls.
5. an inner courtyard where you can garrison your defending battalion of troops


PS: used to work there...

khesanh0802 said...

A wonderful public service. If these guys can't take care of our tax property why should we think they can do better with our private property?

Bob Ellison said...

Wow. Great link.

I've worked with architects (I was the computer flunky), and they seem to tend to have strange personalities. Arrogance, certainty, and, strangely, lack of appreciation for beauty are common in that breed of human.

Good architects can be great, but somehow the desire to design buildings attracts lots of Bauhausians. Pre-stressed concrete has special allure.

The Godfather said...

So when President Paul abolishes these agencies, what will happen to these buildings? I say turn one of them -- preferably the FBI Building, the ugliest of the ugly -- over to the Smithsonian to serve as The National Museum Of Government Excess. Let our children and grandchildren never forget what happened when the American people allowed their Government to ignore the Constitutional limits on its powers.

Anonymous said...

Inside each of these blocks-spanning monolithic eyesores is floor upon floor of hundreds upon hundreds of desks in neat rows, where at each and every one sits a government employee doing essential work for the American people.

Big Mike said...

@Althouse, the laugh's on us. Alleged architects were very well paid -- and with our tax dollars! -- to design these buildings.

PS, ugly as the L'Enfant Plaza buildings are from the outside, you should try to shop in their underground mall.

Hagar said...

After 9/11 it has been forgotten that officials need to have contact with the public and companies need to have contact with the customers.

Sean Gleeson said...

Ah, so that's why they keep arresting people for trying to photograph government buildings! It all makes sense now.

Wally Ballou said...

@Hagar: Thanks, that always makes me grind my teeth. I always say - cement is the flour, concrete is the bread.

Michael K said...

Stalin would love them.

Paul said...

It's no coincidence that the Frankfurt School began to seriously infiltrate our institutions in the sixties and seventies.

One of their objectives was to deliberately make ugly art and architecture as one small part of an over-arching plan designed to demoralize the West.

Balfegor said...

The author blames all of this on government bureaucrats and lawyers commissioning architecture. But in fact, those are the people who have to work in these loathsome buildings. If they had a choice, they'd probably be working in lovely marble palaces in the neoclassical style. These are the sorts of horrid buildings architects build when their clients don't grab them by the lapel and say, "hold on a moment, people have to use these buildings you know!" I bet architects gave themselves a lot of prizes for foisting this rubbish on the public.

Bruce Hayden said...

My initial reaction is that this couldn't happen to a better deserving bunch of people. Excluding the FBI, most of the rest are departments that really got going as a result of LBJ's Great Society, which means to me, that their major purpose in their existence is to redistribute wealth from the makers to the takers.

Reminds me though of entering federal service most of 40 years ago. I managed to get on the Civil Service register (or whatever it was called), and ultimately got an order to show up for work at either HUD or HEW (or their predecessor). But, thanks to the USPS, I had 2 days to do it. This was back when air fares were high, and flights not nearly so common. Besides, I was already conservative enough, that I couldn't see myself working with the department in question. When I told the Civil Service people that I couldn't make it, due to the short time, they told me that I had one more chance, or they would drop me off the register. Luckily, my next federal offer was from Census as a programmer, for working on the 1980 Decennial Census, and that was a Constitutionally mandated function that I philosophically agreed with.

jimbino said...

Those buildings could be used in the set of The Fountainhead, Part I.

Levi Starks said...

It's almost Brutal.

Anonymous said...

It's a societal disease. The same thing happened to "Spirit of VII" catholic churches.

The Drill SGT said...

If they had a choice, they'd probably be working in lovely marble palaces in the neoclassical style.

LOL,

The USDA South Building on the Mall, built in 1936 is a scaled up version of the Federal Prison at Ft Leavenworth. In the days before AC, the needs of prisoners for light and ventilation were similar to the needs of Fed office workers, and the plans were already paid for...

Anthony said...

Maybe we should have excluded architects when we were letting in Soviet refugees.

Anthony said...

Neither San Francisco nor the 21st century are immune.

Bruce Hayden said...

The USDA South Building on the Mall, built in 1936 is a scaled up version of the Federal Prison at Ft Leavenworth.

Didn't know that - was only there once in eight years as a USDA contractor and subcontractor. Still, I would think that the actual ventilation needs in DC would be more than in Leavenworth, KS. Not that KS is all that great in the summer, but DC was apparently considered a hardship posting prior to the invention of air conditioning.

My 5-6 years in the DC area were at the Suitland federal center, in PG county, MD. Apparently WW II buildings converted to civilian use. And, redone since then, at least on the outside, from our drive by a couple years ago. We luckily had air conditioning, but there were those in the office who remembered working there before such. And, yes, when there were separate bathrooms and water fountains for the Black folks (thanks to progressive hero Woodrow Wilson who resegregated the federal workforce). Which was really weird, since you worked with those African-Americans day in and day out, and it was quite hard to fathom separate facilities based on differences that really weren't relevant to getting the job done, or really relevant at all.

Deb said...

Low bid.

Anonymous said...

"The building has an imaginative square form made of tiny pebbles and concrete…which crumbles when you kick it!"

The Federal Govt has an imaginative facade made of tiny bureaucrats which crumbles when you kick it.

sydney said...

I say turn one of them -- preferably the FBI Building, the ugliest of the ugly -- over to the Smithsonian to serve as The National Museum Of Government Excess.

I second that.

The Drill SGT said...

but DC was apparently considered a hardship posting prior to the invention of air conditioning.

The Brits used to have a listing of their Embassies and the seasonal uniforms. Washington DC made it to the "shorts and pit helmet" list because of the 90-90 summer heat (Temp and humidity)

"Washington Goes to War" by David Brinkley is a superb read on pre-WWII DC

“Washington was a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm”
- JFK

Richard Dolan said...

This is all architecture-by-GSA committee, where the most prominent features is the dreary sameness of it all. The buildings provide a perfect visual metaphor for the gov't-by-bureaucracy which they house. Amazing how much mediocrity can cost, but that's part of the GSA way too.

Scully used to contrast junk like this with Louis Kahn's gov't center in India. That too was a lot of concrete, but worlds removed from the deadness of gov't buildings in DC. It doesn't have to be like this, but that doesn't change the reality that it usually turns out like this.

MadisonMan said...

The Federal Court House here (named, naturally after a politician) is at least interesting - it's a big blue box.

Anonymous said...

You mean the Fed has not arrested Benny for taking pictures of their "important" buildings?

Anonymous said...

khesanh0802 said...
"If these guys can't take care of our tax property why should we think they can do better with our private property?"

Ah, but they will take care of "their" private property. As soon as they can make "our" private property "their" private property, they will take great care of them.

Mike said...

great caption writing.

Hagar said...

It is not necessarily the Architect's fault.
The worst work environment I have ever experienced was in the old, white Federal Building in downtown Albuquerque. I was told that this came about because the building was constructed under a Federal program whereby the Gov't would contract with a local group of investors to construct a building and the Gov't would rent the space for 30 years at a fixed price.
So, at the pre-design meetings, the Architect would propose something, and the head of the finance group would look over at him and ask: "Doesn't that cost money?" "Um, just a little." "Well, we won't do that then."
The construction contract was let to a contractor specializing in Gov't construction, and the quality was accordingly.
I am told that in the end the Architect would not allow them to put his name on the building plaque, but I never checked on that.
The Corpse of the Eggineers stuck it out in that space until the 30 years were up, and then promptly fled to more agreeable quarters.
I think I remember an article in the Albuquerque Journal stating that their space in the old building had been declared "unfit for human occupation." Or it might have been the entire building.

Anthony said...

Madison Man, here in the Bay Area we had the Blue Cube. I think there were more radio dishes before that picture was taken.

Christopher said...

This is all architecture-by-GSA committee, where the most prominent features is the dreary sameness of it all.

I work near all of these buildings and it's about as bad as they make it sound. But this is not a feature unique to "architecture-by-GSA" or the feds in general. This was the dominant style when most of these buildings went up, and it affected public, private and religious construction pretty much across the board. Many an ugly Catholic church was built during this period. I could name you a particular Catholic church whose Sunday bulletin features its beautiful mini-Gothic predecessor on the cover, bulldozed to make way for what looks like a Burger King from the outside.

Balfegor said...

Re: Christopher:

In DC's favour, we have at least demolished that awful Fuhrerbunker Church.

Wen said...

Viole(n)t

Mark B said...

Yes Althouse, thank-you for understanding our pain. I get off the train every day at L'Enfant and wait for the free shuttle bus to Buzzard Point in front of HUD. Sometimes the black rent-a-cops come out of their concrete pods to shoo the shuttle bus line away from blocking the entrance to their little parking lot which is reserved for the Nomenklatura and is also guarded by a huge steel barrier that rises out of the concrete pavement. But, then, later in the day (not all THAT late!) we all escape the Soviet paradise to our McMansions in the leafy Virginia suburbs. It is UNBEARABLE!