Goodbye, Noble Behemoth

Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the flagship of the US military’s health system, has been slated to close in 2011.  With it will be lost one of the great pieces of mid-century modernism that Washington is lucky to have.

The hospital itself stands 125 feet, as tall as a 10-story building, but the true weight of its impression comes from its wide lateral form. The pleasing proportions are accomplished on such a massive scale that the onlooker can’t help but be astonished.  There are 5,500 rooms covering some 28 acres of floor space. The distance around the top three floors stretches the length of six football fields.

Even though it is so wide, the design of the hospital around several internal courtyards means each patient room has an outside view. There are normally accomodations for about 260 beds, though the building was originally designed with a capacity of 1,280. During the Persian Gulf War there were about 1,000 beds in operation.

So why is it closing?
In an effort to subsidize the city’s subway system, the medical center purposely limited the number of parking spots, forcing staff to use public transportation.  Combined with the fact that buildings are subject to a height restriction in DC, the campus became increasingly sprawled as it expanded, forcing staff to walk longer distances.  This is constantly bemoaned by many, including my roomate who works in the pathology department.  Assuming that the closure will likely cost upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars, is this sedentary attitude costing us all so much more than we realize?

The future?
Under federal law, the property would be offered to other federal agencies. If deemed excess, the land would be offered to homeless assistance groups, then potentially to local authorities by negotiation or for sale for reuse.

Chances are it will be developed into upscale homes and apartments.





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