As the nation’s only cultural institution dedicated to inspiring curiosity and knowledge about the world that we design and build, the National Building Museum experienced the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol with profound sadness and horror. This monumental structure, the heart of American deliberation and democracy—the product of decades of designs and redesigns, constructed after a great conflict and inscribed with the scars of further conflicts, a building that resonates in the nation’s psyche as much as it dominates the Washington, D.C., landscape—had been invaded, violated, desecrated, marred by riotous behavior and the killing of a police officer. The Museum unequivocally condemns this violence and the intent to turn the Capitol from a place of civil discourse into a space of insurrection.
The Capitol took 70 years to complete, from the laying of the cornerstone in 1793 to the placement of the bronze Statue of Freedom in 1863. And yet, like democracy itself, the building and its surrounding landscape will always be an unfinished project: only recently has the nation begun to acknowledge the debt owed to those who inhabited this land before colonization, and to the enslaved people who labored on the construction. Since 1894, when Jacob Coxey, leading an “army” of unemployed workers, was arrested for trespassing on the lawn, the people’s right to access and peaceably assemble on Capitol grounds, and to enter the building, has gradually expanded, but not without friction and negotiation. In 2008, as part of a massive renovation, the Capitol Visitor Center opened to provide a welcoming introduction for the building’s 2.5 million annual visitors—people from across the country and around the world who come to see what democracy looks like, to see what a diverse and truly inclusive nation looks like. The terrible events of January 6 are a permanent stain on our nation’s legacy.
Every four years, January marks not only a new year but also a renewed commitment to the peaceful transfer of power in American government. We should be preparing the city to celebrate an inauguration, one that will bring the first woman and person of color to the vice presidency, just days after we celebrate the life and moral leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Instead, the “People’s House” is surrounded by barricades, fences, and law enforcement, as are the capitol buildings in every state. The Museum decries the current threats of violence upon these spaces of democracy and the legislators, aides, and others who work in them. And we fear for the security repercussions that may remain, and that would further erode the public’s right to peacefully access these buildings.
Capitol buildings are civic spaces, erected to house the hard work of democracy; they are as near to sacred spaces as secular architecture can be. We remain firm in the belief that the nation will survive this crisis, this violence, and that the U.S. Capitol will continue to represent America’s ongoing project of democracy to the world.