Americans have paid little attention to the institutional meaning of public buildings, such as those occupied by Congress. An Englishman, C. Northcote Parkinson, has studied this question with reference to his country. In his book Parkinson's Law, he made significant comments about public buildings and their implications for the vitality of the institutions which use them.
Mr. Parkinson described a building "clothed from the outset with convenience and dignity" and mentioned "the outer door, in bronze and glass. . . ." This description could well be applied to the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Parkinson also mentioned the corridors: "Polished shoes glide quietly over shining rubber to the glittering and silent elevator." He noted "the subdued noise of an ordered activity" coming from behind closed doors; he referred to the experience of being "ankle deep" in carpet. All this bears a strong resemblance to conditions in the new Senate and House office buildings.
Mr. Parkinson said that in such a place, "you will feel that you have found real efficiency at last," but that this is not true. "In point of fact you will have discovered nothing of the kind. It is now known that a perfection of planned layout is achieved only by institutions on the point of collapse. . . ."
Mr. Parkinson's view, one that he illustrated with a history of Parliament buildings in England, was this: "During a period of exciting discovery or progress there is no time to plan the perfect headquarters. The time for that comes later, when all the important work has been done. Perfection, we know, is finality; and finality is death."
In 1960, as a member of the Senate Public Works Committee, I studied Mr. Parkinson's comments on this point and concluded that the recent construction of the second Senate Office Building was a