On a Tuesday evening in February, I stood outside the J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington, D.C. The FBI Headquarters, a brutalist building with little charm or character, stood large, but humble. It was too plain to be intimidating, but it was certainly not welcoming. The walls protruded about two feet from the rows of windows, giving it a fortified appearance. I could not see much of the inside offices, only the lines of LED lights on the ceiling. Small streams of workers in dressed in business attire trickled out from the side entrance. The presence of security guards in every doorway discouraged me from going inside. However, walking around the building, I found the reception entrance, which had a revolving door and small lobby that made it appear to be more welcoming to guests. I went inside and asked the security guard if I could go in further, already expecting her to say no. She said no. I stood a minute longer, observing the somewhat-clean glass partition at the front desk, the metal detectors in the joining room, and the dull white walls, before heading out into the crisp evening.
That was the extent of my short-lived experience at the FBI Headquarters. The J. Edgar Hoover Building seemed to embody the bureaucratic nature of the system it was built for, being large, square, and straightforward. A person with no indication that the concrete complex was the FBI Headquarters would still be discouraged from entering or staying around for long. However, within a one-block radius of the building, upscale restaurants, renowned galleries, high-end retailers, lively clubs and bars, and other cultural attractions draw in crowds of Washingtonians and tourists. In an area designed around luxury and entertainment, the building stands unapologetically austere.