I live in an 8-story modernist housing block designed by Hugh Stubbins that sails through a sea of turn-of-the-century New England residential complexes. Where the neighboring buildings are dense clusters of cellular apartments surrounding serpentine stairs- always detailed with tiles in ornate patterns- my building is hollow, a residential foam. A large chamber at the center of the building is ringed with circulatory balconies that preside over a platform of planters. Empty most days, when hosting bi-weekly meetings of the condo association the geometry of the platforms begins to shape a space of governance. Without closing anything off, the space between the planters is large enough to comfortably seat the condominium board without precluding the possibility of others joining when a particularly pressing issue is being discussed. Visible from 7 floors of balconies above, in this atrium dimensions, composition, and section are combined to create a space which vacillates between functional site of governance and spatial amenity for the inhabitants.

The history of parliamentary spaces begins with a wide open plain in the center of Iceland. From 930 onwards, the leaders of Iceland used the plains of Thingvellir to convene their government at a shared point in space that was central for all parties. Some 850 years later, the members of France's Third Estate found themselves locked out of the Séance Royal on June 20th, 1789 and commandeered a nearby indoor tennis court where they took the impromptu, ad-hoc oath that began the French Revolution. Getting down to business required sitting down in the wake of this oath, the young republicans would inhabit previously-royal spaces to begin building a governmental framework. This was going to take a while, so they needed tables and chairs, the furniture of civil argumentation. Inspired by the success of the French Revolution and having just escaped their own royal ruler, a burgeoning United States of America would commission the construction of a capitol building to be the centerpiece of a new capital city. With this final step, political representation was reflected back to the population (and the city) through the construction of a material symbol. The evolving concerns of interior, parliamentary space were exchanged for questions of symbolic form on an urban, even national level.

Using the example of the Concord Ave. apartment building in Cambridge, MA detailed above, an interesting alternative to self-consciously representative architecture is opened up. Here the formal presence of the building is undistinguished but the internal disposition has made the building a machine for citizenship: both enabling self-governance, and fostering the casual social encounters that help a community cohere. Since the atrium of the building is made to serve the double duty of being a seat of power and a site of spurious social connection, governance is turned into an event by the occasional re-arrangement of furniture. The extraordinary condition of the atrium when it's being used for a meeting and the fact that the atrium is the primary circulation space of the building combine to create congestive effects: residents and condo board members must both engage an altered subjectivity while they are temporary interlopers. Even as the board is debating the merits of interior paint colors one finds themselves speaking in a hushed voice out of respect, not for mauve* but for democracy.

*Democracy has its downsides too.

To do: A survey of parliamentary and congressional interior spaces would be very useful for this argument.