Thursday, January 17, 2008

In the White House's Shadow

The Storefront in New York City couldn’t have picked a better time to solicit ideas for speculatively redesigning the White House. With the presidential primaries in full tilt circulating the nation right now, and some tight races taking shape between egos that seem already too big to be contained by any single piece of architecture, this competition could make for a real good parody on the road to the White House. Talk about the politics of space, this might be it in its most blatant form – I mean, come on, it’s the White House Redux, who wouldn’t want to chime in on that? I suppose the only next best thing could be the redesign of the Pentagon; who knows, maybe that’s next? Actually, the White House is much better. No doubt. (On a sidenote, check out current presidential candidates' cribs right here).

Anyway, the White House, the brief says, is:

“Home of the world's most powerful individual. Universally recognized symbol of political authority. One of America's greatest tourist attractions. Nerve-center of the world's most complex communications system. The ultimate architectural embodiment of power.

Few people realize the extent of the White House, since much of it is below ground or otherwise concealed by landscaping. The White House includes: Six stories and 55,000 square feet of floor space, 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms, 412 doors, 147 windows, twenty-eight fireplaces, eight staircases, three elevators, five full-time chefs, a tennis court, a bowling alley, a movie theater, a jogging track, a swimming pool, and a putting green. It receives about 5,000 visitors a day.”

Maybe its replacement should be something more in line with the assertion of global democracy via the White House’s other foreign surrogate halls of justice, broken down, pre-packaged and turned into a nifty and deportable tent city like the Rule of Law Complex in Iraq, for example, or the new Military Commissions Courthouse at Guantanamo; remember the pneumatic parliament? That might have some relevance here. I'm thinking a kind of White House that may come in some massive toy box that could be bought at K-Mart, or something. But, that's pretty uninteresting, I admit.

Maybe I'd build a tiny replica of the white house encased in thousands of transparent onion layers of bubble-wrap shielding; a shrinking White House cast in the throes of waning geopolitical significance, in the dwarfing of its power of influence and determinancy; and, behind these billowing see-through sheets of gossamer insulation working like lenticulars that from some angles super magnify the White House making it appear much larger than it really is, we'd glimpse little scenes of maids dusting old photographs, officials gargling mouthwash in front of some mirror, there'd be ghosts plotting in the corner, robots taking notes, and so on. I’d subject the whole thing to some holographic model trapped in the light of its own surveillance; reduced to a silly ornament of cheap showy projection -- its fortress secrecy swapped now for unlimited public scrutiny. Though, I guess if that we're my only intention we could just remake the thing as is but entirely out of bullet proof glass.

But, as I recently got a little hair choppage (man I’ve got some big-ass ears!), and thus feel slightly more light-headed than usual, that half-assed idea might be kind of a deflated let down, for ya. Maybe I got a little too obsessed with the aspect of Redux. So, maybe we should take this thing in a completely different direction.

This little sentence however from the project brief caught my attention: Few people realize the extent of the White House, since much of it is below ground or otherwise concealed by landscaping.

So, for example, what if the White House were actually a portal to the greatest subterranean underworld ever known to man, spanning in long labyrinthine metacarpals all across the globe like some dark infinitely-fingered hand groping and pilfering all the cookie jars of the world, while from the outside the structure never changed? That is, the redesign of the White House would have absolutely no effect on the exterior architecture whatsoever, but rather leave it as a superior façade and testament to the White House’s ominous consistency; it’s obstinate image; parabolic symbolism; it’s unyielding reputation as the most powerful piece of architecture anywhere in the world that could forever stand up to the test of time and greatest of geopolitical challenge.
Instead, what if the White House were the gateway to the craziest cross-border tunnel system any future rogue engineers could fancy? The globe’s first physically interconnected corporate bunker system. So, the president, or even his little dog, could at any time slip through a mistakenly left-open pantry door and hours later end up in some cigar boutique in, say, Havana, Cuba? Or, from there, his cronies decide to whisk him off (the dog, the president, or both, it doesn’t matter) to quickly inspect some clandestine pipeline project in Kazakhstan, and just like that – through some magical feat of Mr. Rogers trolley – bang! He’s there with a hardhat barking and jerking at the chains himself of slave laborers from Bangladesh?
Of course, we could dream up endless scenarios here of amazing tectonic fissure travel that would lead to all sorts of sovereign expansion sites scattered around like global manholes, but the idea is that the White House is -- more so than anything else -- the largest underground system of passages and hallways and bunkers and transit tubes and training facilities and gambling halls and narcissistic boudoirs and 'black' infrastructure you could possibly conceive. In essence, my redesign would have nothing to do with the actual house itself, but, rather this skeletal shadow house that lurks in every direction underneath, like some militarized root system lined with gun racks, trophy rooms, board rooms, data server dungeons, periscopic lounges; and yes, why not, a few fossilized torture chambers where the whole gang occasionally gets together to reminisce over the good old times with sloppy beer games.
Anyway, maybe I got a little carried away there, but I think I would run with the notion of designing something that is every bit an extension of the White House rather than re-architecting the icon itself. But, that’s just me, and I would probably not make the cover of Surface magazine – oh, well.

The details once again: The White House Redux / sponsored by the Storefront for Art and Architecture and Control Group / Timeline: registration and submissions deadline: April 20, 2008. Oh, and fellow homeboy Geoff Manaugh from BLDGBLOG will be one of the jurors picking this one, so don't be afraid to go conceptually wild and totally over the top ! (He likes that.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...


6:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11:20 AM  
Blogger Phila said...

There was a sci-fi novel I read years ago in which a city wandered over a doomed planet on rails. Maybe we could take a similar approach to the WH?

Or better yet, we could franchise them out to other countries, like MacDonald's or KFC. Why shouldn't Israel have a White House? Or Pakistan?

1:50 PM  
Blogger Phila said...

McDonald's, that is. Wouldn't want to get their lawyers breathing down your neck!

1:51 PM  

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