Moshe Safdie Builds for Peace
by Katherine Gustafson
From the intersection of 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., at a corner of the U.S. National Mall near the Potomac River, the grandeur of the Lincoln Memorial is due south, and war-related memorials to Vietnam veterans, World War II, and George Washington, among others, unfold to the left, southeastward.
Turning further left, counterclockwise, to look north-northeast from the crossroads, one faces the expanse of the Truman Building, home to the U.S. Department of State, originally built 1939 to 1941.
Turning again to the left, to face northwest, one now faces the luminous new headquarters of the U.S. Institute of Peace, with its dramatic, curvaceous roof canopy.
Designed by Moshe Safdie, this new landmark provides the first permanent home for the peace institute, created by the U.S. Congress in 1984 as an independent, nonpartisan center for nonviolent conflict management.
In support of the institute's mission, Safdie has created an open, window-intensive layout organized around two soaring, curving, daylit atria. The expression of connection and community among the institute's staff and building visitors is palpable.
"I'm not one who believes in overt symbolism, but my sense of a building dedicated to peace was a sense of the lightness of being," said Safdie during a recent press tour of the new institute headquarters.
"We worked hard to make the roof translucent and almost weightless. It should be a serene building. It should not be an aggressive building. It should be full of light."
The LEED Gold-certified structure also succeeds as a monumental edifice befitting its place in the urban frame of the National Mall. The curving glass-bound space of the atria separates concrete volumes punctuated by grids of window openings, these rectilinear elements — expressed both inside and outside — serving to visually connect the building with more traditional Federalist government architecture — reusing and reinterpreting a key Safdie motif from both Salt Lake City and Vancouver, B.C.
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