Here in Washington, the United States Institute of Peace, designed by Moshe Safdie, FAIA, is under construction, and, to read the description that appears on the architect’s and the agency’s Web sites, you’d think they were risking duplicating the work other agencies are supposed to be doing. It’s “envisioned to serve as a national center for the prevention, management, and resolution of international conflicts.”
It’s possible I’m an optimist, but I had hoped this was at least part of what the Department of State (conveniently located right across the street) keeps themselves busy with.
Such site placement suggest to me that Peace Institute sees itself in a watchdog role here, not unlike the new Newseum’s perch between the White House and the Capitol—this time with the Peace Institute’s graceful curves and glowing atriums looming over the cynically blocky and monolithic Harry S. Truman Building. But hey, it could have been an accident too. Buildable sites anywhere near downtown D.C. are few and far between.
So what roles will this institution play and what does that mean for Safdie’s design?Superficially, the light-filled, billowing, and fractured arcs that cap the design express a sense of warmth, invitation, and trust—a fundamental cornerstone of any conflict resolution process. And the building’s grounding in contextually weighty stone Federalist forms native to the city (including the deformed Neo-Classical dome that has been broken into curved atrium roofs) signals the hope that rational, yet dynamic thought and conversation can overcome the impulse to destroy. But does it have the gravitas to compete with the State Department and the Pentagon? Should it even try?