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Fort Stephens of Athens

With federal buildings so in the news of late as targets of public displays of anger regarding issues of national concern, it is worth noticing the very defensive stance shown by the architecture and the placement of Athens, Ga’s downtown federal office building. Built in 1973 during the height of Nixonian paranoia, as the baying hounds of Watergate’s investigators nipped at the cuffs of his pinstripe breeches, while diplomats argued over shapes of tables as a losing war effort wound down, the building itself looks mighty like a feudal fortress, with over thick walls whose deep well window openings could easily and quickly be boarded shut and made Molotov-proof.

The big square fort is front and center of a whole, open city block where a rapid fire muster of rank and file fusiliers might quickly fan out toward a city-hall seizure for a bullhorn blaring of martial declarations that might keep the rabble at bay. Government buildings, like those of many of society’s institutions, such as banks and churches, project images of stability, of grandiosity, even, to reassure the viewer of their durability. The Bob Stephens Federal Building, however, shows a certain grinning menace on all its four pockmarked faces.

Jim Baird


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