The latest, biggest and, let us hope, last Hitlerian behemoth in Washington serves as a second annex to the Library of Congress and a memorial to James Madison. It serves both badly.
The $160-million marble slab covers every inch of the superblock at Independence Avenue SE, between First and Second Streets, opposite its gloriously florid parent. It holds nine floors of 5.4 acres each, two of them underground, topped by a penthouse with mechanical equipment, a cafeteria, executive suites and a terrace.
JMMB, as a tour information fact sheet fondly calls the James Madison Memorial Building, is 15 percent larger than the old Library of Congress building and its first annex (TJB, orThomas Jefferson Building) combined.
This gives JMMB more usable square footage than its architectural kin, the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building.
The first contingent of some 4,000 employes, the Library's geography and map division, is now moving in from Alexandria, although it will still take at least a year-and-a-half until JMMB is fully completed and occupied.
Dedication ceremonies in the James Madison Memorial Hall are nevertheless scheduled for April 22.
What makes the building appear Hitlerian, at least to this observer, is not only its resemblance to Hitler's first work of public architecture, the Haus der Deutschen Kunst , the museum of German art, in Munich, it is also the spirit, the basic attitude that produced the totalitarian architecture of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. That attitude infected such mid-20th century government building as JMMB, the Sam Rayburn House Office Building, the FBI Building and the Kennedy Center.
Former senator J. William Fulbright called this spirit "the arrogance of power." Its architecture seeks not to please and serve people, but to impress them. It seeks simplistic solutions to complex problems. It seeks a massive monumentality symbolizing power.
Manifestation of power, in architecture as in politics, can make no allowance for complexity or humane concerns.
In the James Madison Memorial Building a multitude of functions (such as the copyright office, the prints, photographs and motion picture collections, and highly specialized research) are stuffed into one windowless box.
In the Sam Rayburn building, the accommondation of office work is subordinated to the Pharaonic dramatics of wide corridors, staircases, useless terraces and doorways designed for some master race, not ordinary humans.
The FBI Building manifests its defiant arrogance in abstract, capricious, sculptural form rather than in allusions to Imperial Rome, as does the Rayburn colossus.
The Kennedy Center arrives at its inhuman scale by forcing an opera house, a concert hall and one big and two small theaters into one simplistic form. It "reads," as architects say, it is perceived, not as an arts center, but merely as a nondescript monumental monolith. It does not symbolize the joys of music , drama, opera, but wealth, pretige, authority -- in short, anything but the spiritual values it ought to represent.
Other cities have a way out -- or, rather up. They build skyscrapers and stock various functions within the same building on top of one another, achieving prominence for them at the same time.
But this is no reason to lift Washington's height limitation. Instead of a few bad buildings, that would give us a whole bad city.
Our few, immense buildings are painfully fascist looking, not because they are relatively low, but because of their disdain for human individuality and sentiment. They sacrifice humanismfor the sake of rigid, simple order.
Form does not follow function. Function is forced into predetermined form. None of these forms is particularly appealing.
Thanks to James Madison among others, no rigid, simple order can easily be imposed on America's body politic. Nor is this architectural observation meant to imply that the clients of fascist buildings craved political fascism. Yet, it may well bea manifestation of a mentality Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us against -- the mentality of the military-industrial complex.
In his country, this mentality is nottotalitarian. But it is totally anti-intellectual. JMMB is anti-intllectual -- a mindless work of architecture. And that makes it an insult to the memory of a great intellectual as well as a great statesman. It is also a bad library.
A cascade of bronze books seems to pour on the heads of innocent visitors, entering the building from IndependenceAvenue. This "decorative frieze" is an unintended symbol of the building's anti-intellectualism -- or is it the book-hater's revenge for the cost of this library? The frieze will be mounted in front of the glass-walled main entrance, this dimming the only sizable source of natural light in this entire 1.2-million square foot box. The other meager openings are a few narrow, vertical window strips.
Inside the entrance is a 12-foot marble statue of James Madison, by Walker Hancock and set against a curved marble screen. There are marble floors and marble ceilings and teak panels. Everything is very slick and in exquisitely bad taste, resemblingthe lobby of an insurance company headquarters building.
Beyond this lobby is an array of display cases resembling a mail-order house showroom for pocket computers and clock radios. Here rare manuscripts and other memorabilia from Madison's life and times will be on display. The ceiling is 11-feet high. That is all we could spare the chief author of the Bill of Rights and fourth president of the republic.
The library part of the building is amaze. At this point -- with interior construction work still going on, only afew of the lights and elevators working, none of the proposed color coding in place, no signs, just some steel shelves and open-plan offices -- it is impossible to imagine how people can work here for any length of time and maintain their morale, let alone sanity.
The very idea of 4,000 workers toiling in this labyrinth without daylight and fresh air evokes visions of galley slaves.
The only relief is an "interior court," which is no interior court, but an artificially illuminated hot house, extending from the first through the third floord, with vegetation around a pool and fountain. The style is High Hyatt-Regency.
There is also a nice cafeteria in thepenthouse, where, in addition to food employes get free daylight. But let usnot be carried away. "There will be no eating on the terrace," said James Trew, director of the Library Environment Resource Office. "Too much of a breeze."
Planning of JMMB, if that is the word, began more than 20 years ago, when J. George Stewart and then Librarian of Congress L. Quincy Mumford started drawn-out hassles in both houses of Congress with their plea for more library space. Despite opposition, Stewart had his way on just about every aspect of the building.
Stewart appointed essentially the same architectural team that had helped him extend the East Front of the Capitol and design the Rayburn Building -- Roscoe DeWitt of Dallas, Alfred Easton Poor of New York and Jesse M. Shelton of Atlanta -- on the grounds that they were the only architects in the country who cold work in the ecole des arts laids style he preferred. But this time DeWitt, Poor, and Shelton went Modern.
There are no published estimates of the amount and cost of energy required to heat, cool, ventilate and light this behemoth. A good guess is that, in full operation, JMMB will almost double the electric bill of Capitol Hill.
The planner had assumed that America's resources, power and opportunities were unlimited.
Perhaps we have been humbled a little. That may hurt some Capitol egos and maybe the national pride. Butit would help our architecture.