Losing to Progress: Inside a U-Street Landmark

The columns of the Frank D. Reeves Center present a noble facade to a potential visitor. In the style of much Washington D.C. architecture, concrete, marble, glass, and steel are combined to produce a veritable Parthenon for each public structure. As I pass under the columns and through the steel and glass, I’m immediately greeted by a security checkpoint manned by 4 guards. I place my phone and wallet in the ceramic bowl as I ponder what this means for visitors without my privilege. Just as I expect, I’m asked no questions and receive no comment except for how nice my ID picture is. For others, this may not have been the case. A security checkpoint might be imposing or threatening, instantly deterring individuals from the services and community on the other side. I collect my items, reorient myself, and enter into the atrium.

I look around and am impressed by the display of local artwork. What draws me the most is a life-sized sculpture of a baby elephant. Its anatomy was not its greatest quality as the way in which it was adorned. From differing angles, one can see Lady Liberty contort into view upon its ear and body. Closer inspection of its skin reveals images of billowing smoke and twisted steel. Block characters read “9/11.” proceed to take photos from various angles of this beautifully ingenious sculpture before a guard prohibits me from taking anymore. More security has transgressed upon aesthetics.

Passing the atrium brings me to the utility of the building. To the right is a glass cubicle housing an NGO providing advocacy for the African LGBT community. On the balcony of the next floor I see various fire and EMT trainees participating in a seminar. Apart from these two entities, I thought I might be the only life in the building. I head to the opposite end and pass an unlocked glass security door to board an elevator. I wish to go to the top floor and get a commanding view of the neighborhood.

6th Floor: Restricted.

5th Floor: Restricted.

4th Floor: Restricted.

I go up to the third floor. Greeting me is an office of DC transportation and a room of locked doors with scanners. I head back down to the second floor where I had seen the paramedics training and see them filing out down the stairs. I follow the path and exit through a side door that brings me into a beautiful garden with a fountain and playground. It is surrounded by a high fence that offers limited views of the surrounding neighborhood. I wonder who could use this park and why, as well as who might never see it.

The interior of this building showed me how the provision of services to the community can simultaneously alienate some of those individuals. I felt entirely comfortable entering this large government building and passing a security check, but I can imagine various alternatives in which that would be highly intimidating. My research led me to believe that this building serves as a location for community meetings and events, but now I see little evidence beyond the utilitarian offices and locked security doors. Can these services be provided while simultaneously creating a commonplace for all who desire it?img_1267

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