Rayburn House Office Building

 Approaching the Minecraft Deathstar from the south. Google Streetview

Approaching the Minecraft Deathstar from the south. Google Streetview

This blocky monolith occupying an entire city square on Capitol Hill is the Rayburn building, built in the 1960’s as new office space for the House of Representatives. It’s design frequently evokes soliloquies on “monstrous”, “soul deadening” and “fascist” architecture in Washington.

 Google Earth image

Google Earth image

The layout of the Rayburn building resembles a corrupted letter “H”, with tentacle stubs jutting outwards off the center and inwards on the ends. The “H” shape has two unintended impacts on the building. First: it’s windowless hallways are impossible to navigate. To get from one corner to the opposite you need to make a right, a left, another right and another left. Second, it occupies the maximum amount of real estate with the minimum amount of usable space. Less than 20% of the Rayburn’s floorspace is offices (the rest is taken up by corridors, garages, cafeterias, elevators, etc.)

Rayburn has a five-acre footprint, and looming four stories over the Hill it is larger than the nearby Capitol building. The height is even more pronounced at the south western corner of the building, where a drop in elevation exposes the subbasement level and gives the appearance of a six story building.

The entire facade is clad in seven million pounds of blank white marble. It can be difficult to appreciate the overbearing scale in photographs, but standing at its base it is impossible to ignore how Rayburn dwarfs its human inhabitants and its much more restrained neighboring offices.

The sparse decorations come across as random, bizarre, and a little amusing. One one side of the building you can find an unidentified topless Art Deco statue with an enormous sword; another is adorned by horses with drinking horns rising out of their hindquarters - don’t be embarrassed if you miss the symbolic meaning of these statues, there is none.

Architectural quirks abound on the inside of the Rayburn building. When it opened, the Washington Post called out the numerous “stairways that lead nowhere” and baffling designs that result in “hot and cold air blowing into offices at the same time.” The building also used to have an underground swimming pool and Capitol Police shooting range (recently abandoned because of bounce-back bullets.)

The building was designed by a congressional commission headed by powerful Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, and it was built under the guidance of George Stewart. Stewart was a former congressman, and college dropout, lackin