Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Gilded Vestibules

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Gilded Vestibules

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "Rolling Out the Unwelcome Mat for Visitor Centers" by Martin Filler, in Architectural Record, March 2009.

THE OPENING OF THE $621 million subterranean Capitol Visitor Center in Washington lucidly passed almost unremarked last December. Otherwise, writes architecture critic Martin Filler, this star-spangled boondoggle might have received star billing in the Guinness Book of Pork.

Designed to protect lawmakers in the wake of the shooting deaths of two Capitol policemen in 1998, the 580,000-square-foot underground lobby, security checkpoint, history gallery, and food service complex purports to ease public access to the Capitol building. Actually, writes Filler, a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books and other publications, it does just the opposite. The opportunity for visiting families to roam the halls and spot a lawmaker they recognize from CSPAN is a thing of the past. Most visitors' Capitol experiences are now confined to the annex, where they wait in line for their tours and eat in the cafeteria. Extensive exhibits, also located in the annex, show the building of the Capitol and illustrate the workings of the government with contemporaneous letters and other documents. …

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