Container Problem

A British-made earthenware pitcher commemorating the first official population census of the United States in 1790:

Containers hold things.

Containers have the potential to shape their contents, often providing an evocative representation of what they hold. The typical form of the jug, for instance, has sides bowing under the pressure of the liquid it contains- a phenomenal representation of the battle between container (rigid-inwards) and contained (liquid-outwards).

Containers also have surfaces which may be used for further representative tasks. This jug, in particular, is both evocatively representing the liquid forces it contains and explicitly celebrating the nation's first Census in 1790. These two forms of representation coalesce into a message of constructed solidarity or constitutive identity: There is a thing (jug/nation) that is realizing its potential to purposefully shape its contents (liquid/population).

Containers are not compatible with infinitely or extensively growing contents. They have specified limits. When containers become full, their shaping potential becomes a problem that leads to overflow and uncontrolled spillage.

Buildings are containers.

Buildings, unlike jugs, may be extended, renovated, and reconfigured. However, representative buildings are limited in their ability to be modified because the legibility of the building, its image, begins to be just as important as its ability to contain things. Conversely, buildings with no legible image are unsatisfying symbols of the things they contain. Important public buildings require legible images: they have to be potent enough to appear on money.

Buildings that are trapped by the success of their image begin to negatively effect the organizations that they house. These organizations either leave or suffer the pain of increasingly difficult spatial compromises. If McDonald's corporate headquarters is stiffling their business it's their problem. If the successful branding of our government's buildings is inhibiting the daily function of the government itself, this is our problem.

Public buildings are containers that must have a potent image without losing their ability to contain new things and more things. Public buildings must relentlessly surf the waves of potential without succumbing to the riptide of representation.