Monday, March 8, 2010

Washington DC - House of Cars - an exhibit at the National Building Museum

Every year I take a trip to Washington, DC for business. It's a great city to visit and explore, a wonderful place to walk, and a real treat for those who love to learn. Most of the museums are free, and even office buildings are worth a peak inside. There are public spaces everywhere, both indoors and outdoors, and  that is a good thing, because a trip to DC is often exhausting, and a place to sit down is welcome. In the next few days I'm going to try to write a little about some of my favorite sites and experiences.

Today I went to the National Building Museum, which I recommend to anyone that is interested in urban design, cities, and land use in general. The building itself is spectacular, originally built for the US Pension Bureau after the Civil War. Even if you just love beautiful, grand architecture, you should stop by if you are in Washington.

The museum is currently hosting an exhibit about the history of the parking garage. It really makes you think about the way we accommodate car “at rest,” as the entrance to the exhibit phrases it.We think about cars as something that gives us freedom and mobility, a thing devoted to motion. But most of the time, our cars are not moving. They aren't even on the street, but in a lot or parking garage. We as individuals, business owners, urban designers and civic leaders have had to decide how to store cars at home, work, and all the other locations we take our cars. And the evolution of the parking garage has reflected our attitudes towards both cars and urban design. It has even reflected our attitudes towards cities. We have to decide how much land we want to devote towards housing cars. And we have to decide what those structures should look like.

At the link above are some other interesting links to more contemplation of the car, parking garages, and how parking reflects our social values.