Parkinson's law dictates that work expands so as to fill the time allotted to it. Washington's law ordains that space expands to house the people to perform the work that Congress creates.
If you have doubts about these immutable forces, take a stroll up The Hill. Congress is away, but its will and work live on in the form of a quarter of a billion dollars' worth of new construction.
On Constitution Avenue the sound of jack-hammers and the sight of cranes rising from a hugh hole in the ground: the site of Senate office building No. 3. On the other side of The Hill, workmen are laboring on the latest marbled governmental home to near completion: the third building to house the ever-growing needs of the Library of Congress. Farther away, along the railroad tracks, more work proceeds: the major extension to the U.S. Capitol Power Plant that provides all the steam and all the water for all those buildings on The Hill.
A decade ago, a management consultant firm studied Congress and concluded:
"In the 25 years between 1940 and 1965 the context of congressional performance has been altered dramatically: population has increased 47 per cent: gross national product, 600 per cent; the federal budget. 1,000 per cent: defense spending. 3,500 per cent, and federally sponsored research and development, 5,000 per cent."
In the decade since, Congress' insatiable appetite for new staff and new space continues. The number of liouse and Senate employees has doubied, the number of House committee staff members has increased nearly fourfold.
It's the old story, but with a new twists for want of an office a bill was lost, for want of a bill the nation was . . .
When Congress returns, it faces another old story. It must decide whether to expand the Capitol by extending its western front at a cost of $55 million, or merely to refurbish the crumbling sandstone exterior and retain the original old facade. To an admittedly blased observer, there seems little doubt about the proper decision. Particularly, that is, if you've seen what they did the last time, when the extended the Capitol's East Front. Then, they replaced the lovely old wall with a glaring-white flattened-out marble one. That sight still jars the senses. The latest proposal promises another desetration - or seemed to until I spoke with George White. Then it becomes more complex, and maybe more hopeful.
Deep in the Capitol, in the dimly-lighted circular room near the crypt where they had planned to place Washington's tomb, several glass cases are dislayed. They are memorials to, and contain mementos of, the life and times of the eight previous men who served as Architect of the Capitol. The last case boasts of the work of J. George Stewart, architect from 1954 to 1970. He was a curmudgeon, and a power. His tenure saw the extension of the East Front and another massive change in Capitol Hill's appearance. Stewart presided over construction of the Bunyan-sized Rayburn Office Building, a structure that rivals the new FBI headquarters in its fortress-like prentiousness. For his day, Steward suited the times. He wasn't an architect at all, but a former congressman who understood well how power flowed on The Hill.
George White, only our ninth Capitol architect, is different in all respects. He's a spry, witty and versatile professional, not only the first real architect in more than a century, but a lawyer and Harvard business school graduate to boot. When he came into his position six years ago, the controversy over extending the West Front was already reging.
"Unfortunately," he says, "people become emotional about it. And that's understandable. After all, this building is symbolic. It's the temple of freedom known all over the world, the heart of democracy. Its dome is known everywhere. It's a shrine. People feel very tender about a shrine, and that's the way it ought to be. On the other hand, to some degree that can become a detriment to the real picture of the building and its history, what it is, what you preserve and what you don't."
White was sitting in an office along the West Front that served, during the Civil War, as bread ovens for the Union Army. He got up, walked across the red carpet, and picked up a large photograph. "Here's the earliest known photograph of the Capitol," he said, holding up the picture. "1846, Isn't that great? Somebody found the plate rummaging around in an old book store in San Francisco not too many years ago and sent it along to the Library of Congress. There we are in 1846, and there's the Capitol. See that nice classical building and that little dome with those two little appendages? We were only a tiny nation and then all of a sudden we began to grow and prosper. The nation needed more space and we added two wings and the great dome."
The person who supervised that work was Thomas U. Walter, until White the last professional Capitol architect. Under Walter. the Capitol grew threefold. When he retired he lft behind him a report to Congress on the building, plus his architectural drawings.
"I have his exact words somewhere over here." White went on, "where he said. "Obviously, we need to extend the building at the center portion, and because I intend to retire I think it's appropriate for me to leave my drawings for future use, and, I don't recommend that anything be done until the war is over.' This was in 1864.
"I believe there's a lack of recognition of that history. There are those who say, 'Look,leave it alone, it's old, don't touch it. Now there's nothing wrong with that, but I think it's supersentimental. If we were going to change the building in some way it would be different. But here we'd be actually completing the building from a design standpoint."
What White is arguing for is a far cry from the work proposed by his predecessor, Stewart. That plan called for the destruction of the magnificent terraces stretching down from the West Front designed by the great Frederick Law Olmsted in the 19th century; for underground truck access; for a loading platform: for putting a large pediment on the new marble wall. That, and the inevitable bonus, more space for more people to do supposedly more work - 43 large offices, 58 smaller "hideaway" ones, dining rooms, tourist cafeterias, a barbershop, toilets. On and on. The present plan would restore the wall, preserve the terraces, extend the front to a much more modest degres, and pick up some space.
Today's conflict symbolizes something else: Public taste, even when it comes to public buildings, is changing. Big is no longer always better, new no longer as naturally desirous. "Our way of life has been destructive, in the sense that we've been a frontier nation." White says. "You know, tear it down and build another one and move on - that sort of thing.
"Well, we're reaching a different stage now. We want to preserve our past so we can tell where we came from, so that maybe that will put us in the direction of where we want to go. So where are now? It's like the old biblical expression, 'Man cannot live by bread alone.' That's not enough. We need something human, something with human qualities, with a texture, with a color.
"Why are our colonial buildings so desirable? Everybody enjoys seeings that warm red brick. You don't necessarily think about it, but subconsciously you can feel a man putting those bricks in there one by one. Not by machine, by hand. It's on a human scale you can see and feel and enjoy. We're coming back to that now."
So, herewith, we offer White's corollary to Parkinson's law and Washington's law: as work and space expand and collide they breed their own reaction.
Another way of putting it is hope still springs eternal, even in Congress, even in Washington, eve in August.