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Postcard from... Washington


Finally, downtown Washington is getting rid of the FBI. Not the organisation – what with cyber-crime, terrorism and shooting rampages, the services of the “Feds” are more in demand than ever – but the eyesore that is the Bureau’s headquarters.

In terms of location, it can’t be bettered – on Pennsylvania Avenue, the city’s great ceremonial thoroughfare, midway between the White House and Capitol Hill. But the J Edgar Hoover Building itself, named after the Bureau’s first and most-celebrated director, is another matter.

The style is “Brutalist Modern”. But that doesn’t begin to describe a 1970s fortress of concrete and blackened windows, as menacing and Orwellian as old J Edgar himself. “People should be strolling down America’s main street,” a top architect once noted. “Nobody strolls in front of the FBI building.”

Last year, it topped a list of the world’s ugliest buildings that are worth visiting. The only problem is, you can’t visit it any more. The one redeeming feature used to be the visitors’ tour, including a stop at the terrific FBI museum, but the 9/11 attacks put an end to that.

Mercifully, though, the place is now not just too small to accommodate the ever-expanding post-9/11 Bureau. It’s also falling apart. A 2011 report put the cost of renovation at $1.7bn, more expensive than a new structure, purpose-built from scratch. Jurisdictions in suburban Maryland and Virginia are vying for the honour of becoming the FBI’s new home, and DC Mayor Vince Gray is pushing for a site in the south-east of the city. Most Washingtonians, though, will breathe just two words: good riddance.