Inside job

Thomas R. Temin

Useful as information technology is, it can be ugly, and not only in the abstract sense. PCs, monitors, printers'from a design standpoint, 99 percent of them are banal at best and downright ugly at worst, especially when combined with unsightly wiring and cabling.

That can be bad in a country that's as casual about its architectural heritage as the United States often is. Why, I just read speculation that Yankee Stadium'in some ways America's Colosseum'might be torn down when a new baseball park is built nearby within a few years.

Insertion of technology into historic buildings can make for some awkward appearances and kludgy IT setups. The interior of the Eisenhower (formerly the 'Old') Executive Office Building next to the White House, for instance, bristles with wiring bundles added over the decades to the edges of walls and ceilings, often popping out through this molding and disappearing into that one.

In years past, building occupants would simply hide wiring by dropping a false ceiling that would do justice to a suburban dentist's office. Or by installing Sheetrock partitions. Or metal poles. More recently, the government has awakened to the value of maintaining architectural integrity even as it retrofits old and historically significant buildings. It's a costlier and more painstaking process, but it doesn't ruin uplifting classic interiors.

With thought and planning, buildings assumed to be functionally obsolete can, in fact, accept new technology without bringing in a wrecking ball or draping them in dreary false facades.

Does this matter? That depends on your view of workspace and the relationships among people, their surroundings and technology.

I believe an environment in which history and significance are preserved, and in which management has invested wisely, yields better morale and productivity. Besides, government buildings, new or old, belong to the citizens, and the government has an obligation to take care of them properly even as it gives workers the latest technological tools.


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