Monday, May 22, 2006

Washington's New 'Survival City'

In case you hadn't noticed, the Capitol building in Washington is getting a 500 million dollar bunker installed at the foot of it's front entrance. Called The Capitol Visitors Center, it "will include space for exhibits, visitor comfort, food service, two orientation theaters, an auditorium, gift shops, security, a service tunnel for truck loading and deliveries, mechanical facilities, storage, and much-needed space for the House and Senate."

Others are saying that the CVC is just a euphimism for an overpriced congressional fall-out space instead. In the event of an attack on the Capitol building, Congress "may need to be protected [...] as a result of the disastrous foreign policies they have approved," says Sam Smith, editor for the Progressive Review.

Needless to say, details of the plan have become more secretive while costs have increased from 71 million as it was first estimated in 1991, to half a billion.
The leviathan three-level, 580,000-square-foot center is located beneath the East Capitol Grounds, "so as to enhance rather than detract from the appearance of the Capitol and its historic Frederick Law Olmstead landscape."
We read in this article, that the "structure houses hundreds of thousands of feet of fiber-optic cable for telecommunications services and additional equipment to provide wireless access, virtual screenings of House and Senate proceedings and 20 interactive kiosks for visitors to learn about the history of the Capitol and the legislative branch."

According to the architects, RTKL, after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the floor plans were amended and the building was have fitted with state-of-the-art technology "in order to deliver adequate security measures, material protection and multimedia use.” The Capitol Police apparently declined to answer whether it was "secure against bombs, nuclear threats, or biological and chemical incidents," but it does include four bombproof skylights, an undetailed super sophistication of IT infrastructure, and an secret tunnel system built to keep vehicles out of sight.

Visitor Center, Capitol Bunker, whatever you want to call it, looks pretty obvious Washington planners are bracing for a future subterranean vacation, and this one is closer to home than ever. It almost sounds like a private little slice of Vegas tunneled down there on the Capitol doorstep; an instant paradise poured into concrete - underground pavillions, buried media arcades, chambers within chambers, in short, posh new atomic architecture; or Washington's new Survival City.

Vanderbilt reminds me of this Lewis Mumford quote, "The masters of the underground citadel are committed to a 'war' they canot bring to an end, with weapons whose ultimate effects they cannot control, for purposes they cannot accomplish." Read the chapter The Underground City for a tour of the nation's congresional bunker spaces built over the last several decades.

At the end, Vanderbilt writes about the lasting legacies of the Cold War: an Architecture of Conspiracy: "The subterranean state and the black budget created a world without walls and without boundaries -- everything was possible, everything potentially connected -- and, in the absence of visible lines of power, the paranoid draftsman steps in, sketching an Escher-like world of interlocking secret tunnels and furtive conduits of power. In such darkness, the only light to guide the way is fervant, unblinking belief in disbelief. Whenever a space is opened or a document declassified, the inherent Cold War logic states that this must have occurred only because there is some other space, some other document, buried even deeper, belonging to an even more secret agency, that reemains out of view."

[All images can be found on this page of ongoing contruction progress summaries.] : [Story via ArchNewsNow]

[See these earlier posts: Through the Turnstile; Touring the Greenbrier; Secret Cities of the A-Bomb; Area 71; Mount Weather Gets a Little Facelift; A Silo Full of Cash; Secret Soviet Submarine Base; Fortress Baghdad; The 'Long War' enters its capsule; Subterranean Urbanism; Tokyo Secret City; Bunker Archaeology; Smugglers' Paradise Uprooted; [Re] improvising sub_Base landscapes; Secret Synagogue; Mt. Seemore and the watchful gaze; from Leftover-Bunkers to Tourist-Traps...; A "Closed Atomic City": Open for Business]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw this thing about a year ago, when I visited the capital. Good God, man. I had no idea it was that large. "multimedia capabilities?" They might as well install an iMax theatre down there.

I could probably come up with a handful of ideas from which $500 million bucks could benefit more people. Another example of some lives more valuable than others.

11:30 PM  
Blogger Bryan Finoki said...


as of right now, each of our congressional leaders are getting a mil each in mega-bunkerdom.
hey, i dug your post on the bangladeshi protest. I need to add Disposable People to my reading list.

9:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Particularly galling that this is going on while the damage from last year's hurricane season goes more or less unadressed. While residents of the gulf states brace for year two of an anticipated ten year storm cycle.

I'm just back from a trip to Miami. Severely damaged buildings there are primed to fall further into disrepair. Ocean front apartments with missing balconies, chunks of exposed interior, etc.

The human toll is clearly worse in New Orleans. Friends who've been there recently say it's haltingly easy to find boats in trees, abandoned houses, and walls covered in layers of spray painted dialogues about missing persons. All the photo -journalistic raw goods a documentarian could ask for.

It's a disaster that's already happened, while folks work on a $500M contingency plan in the guise of a visitor's center. Oof.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See also Protective Construction in the Nuclear Age. Two volumes which document the how to's of blast shelter construction which resulted from a symposium held by the RAND corporation and edited by J.J. O'Sullivan in 1959. Those present at this symposium include Herman Kahn, Guy Panero and his partner Weidlinger. Curious that Weidlinger was the structural firm that provided expert commentary on the cause of the structural failure of the World Trade Center within one day of its collapse.

12:41 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home