Beginning Notes On Public Interiors

To do: begin categorizing the spaces of informal politics as well as the formal. What happens in airplanes, limos, between court rooms, in bars and restaurants, in shared apartments. Apparently Congress people often share shabby apartments in DC to allow their families back in the home state to live a representatively affluent life (need to find a citation for this). The condition is easy to identify, but it present something of a moral quandary for the architect: if informality is an important part of getting things done, how do you design for that without killing it?

Observation: the point of saying that I will design some sort of federal building in Washington, DC is to force the building into living up to extremely high standards, not in terms of design quality (since that's obviously not distributed equally in DC) but in terms of what the building must do if we are still to put any value whatsoever into the concepts of 'building' and 'government. '

The intense pressure that this site puts upon buildings to be representative, functional, and at least partially public is a trifecta of conditions which cannot be argued away. These requirements further render themselves into a thick stew when combined with the need for security and the expansion/change of governmental practice which both require some degree of flexible interior space.

From Gattaca to Gotham with one card swipe and a quick escalator ride.
While we're at it, perhaps it's useful to begin breaking apart the term "public." Disturbed already by the public/private opposition that is so popular at the moment, I'd like to further complicate this discussion by suggesting that we divorce public exterior spaces from those that are interior to buildings. The latter being a unique condition that introduces the question of security and drives issues of compunction and public conduct to an even higher, more critical level than in the out of doors. Interior public spaces do two things to varying degrees: they are representative and, for lack of a better term, functional. Foster's Hearst Tower in NYC accepts the public into a very small portion of the building to as a concession to publicness. In fact, even the main grandeur of the space is only hinted at from behind the line of security, one must pass into the secure zone to really 'get' the space. In contrast, the dense network of spaces that form Penn Station (or the Port Authority, for that matter) are incredibly functional at all hours of the day but no matter how much effort Amtrak puts into sprucing up the lounge they fail to have much representative character or, for that matter, any significant quality beyond Junk. In trying to think up a space that is intensely functional and still somewhat representative the best I can come up with is Grand Central Station or an airport like Chek Lap Kok.

(Inspired by this week's thesis lunch)