Imposing, more imposing, Pentagon. The headquarters of the United States Department of Defense has one thing in particular that is impressive: its imposing character. With an area of 135,000 square meters, it is considered one of the largest buildings in the world. The pentagonal concrete building owes its name to its shape as a geometric pentagon.
And even if the complex in Arlington in the state of Virginia on the border with Washington DC can only be visited with great effort, a visit to the five-sided office building made of concrete and the National Cemetery in Arlington is somehow part of a visit to Washington DC.
Numbers, data and facts about the Pentagon
- Height: 23 meters
- Total length: 281 meters
- Office space: 620,000 square meters
- Start of construction: September 11, 1941
- Completion: January 15, 1943
- Owner: United States Department of Defense
- Floors: Seven (5 above ground, 2 underground floors)
- Architects: George Bergstrom, David J. Witmer
- State: Virginia
What makes the Pentagon so special?
The Pentagon designed by George Bergstrom is one of the largest office buildings in the world and not only special because of its characteristic shape. It’s twice as big as that Merchandise Mart in Chicago and has three times the size of the Empire State Building in New York City. The Washington DC Capitol would fit into any of the five sections. And there are very few people in the United States, and arguably the world, who have never heard of the Pentagon.
The headquarters of the US Department of Defense has its own subway station, two dozen bus stations, 24 restaurants, post offices and banks, a dentist, an optician, a pharmacy, various shops, Starbucks branches, a shoemaker and 9,000 parking spaces for employees. The offices on each floor are connected by corridors that have a total length of almost 30 kilometers. And despite this impressive overall length, the architecture of the corridors should make it possible to get from A to B in the shortest possible time. At least once you have understood the system and know how to get from stick to stick and from one point to another in the stick itself.
The history of the Pentagon
In the summer of 1941, the US Department of War employed more than 24,000 civil and military personnel in the Washington DC area, housed in 17 different buildings. A temporary residence for the US Department of War had been set up on Constitution Avenue. However, the location was not sufficient to accommodate all of the staff employed in the War Ministry. The construction of the Harry S Truman building was intended to remedy the problem. But it turned out that this building too lacked the square meters to provide the War Department with enough office space. Today the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in this building.
With the beginning of the Second World War, the point at which the number of employees in the War Ministry should be increased to 30,000. Then Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt for a solution. Finding it was Brigadier General Brehon B. Sommervell’s job after a hearing in Congress. Brehon B. Sommervell finally spoke out in favor of building a new building. After initial concerns, Congress finally gave the green light for this construction.
As a location for the new building, the construction land under the name Arlington Farms was initially discussed. However, the then President Franklin D. Roosevelt had concerns about a construction on the site of Arlington Farms that the huge concrete structure could obstruct the view of Washington DC from Arlington National Cemetery. So – in order to be able to continue to guarantee the unobstructed view – another building site was searched for in the area and found about 1.2 kilometers downstream on the Potomac River. The old Washington Hoover Airport was previously located here. Like all buildings south of the Potomac, it is not in the district, but in the state of Virginia.
The prerequisite for the new building was that the building should not originally be higher than four floors and that only minimal steel should be used. In order to still achieve the necessary office space, the planning was based on space. Since no material from warring states during World War II was to be used, it was also decided to build the pentagon out of concrete and, in particular, to forego marble. Because the marble should have come from Italy.
After the Congress had decided on July 27, 1941 to finance the new building, nothing stood in the way of the start of construction and construction could finally begin on September 11, 1941. For this purpose, Washington Hoover Airport and around 150 residential houses and other buildings first had to give way at this point.
14,000 workers and 1,000 architects worked three shifts around the clock to complete the five-sided Ministry of Defense in just 16 months. The inauguration of today’s landmark could be celebrated on January 15, 1943. The total cost to build the building was $ 83 million. Today the total cost would be $ 1.11 billion.
The corridors of the building, which consists of five concentric pentagons, are designed in such a way that – despite the area of over 600,000 square meters – every point in the building can be reached on foot in seven minutes. In the middle of the pentagons is an inner courtyard. This courtyard was often referred to as “Ground Zero” during the Cold War, as it was expected that this point in the Pentagon would be selected as a target in the event of a nuclear attack.
The Pentagon is almost completely equipped with a sprinkler system, bomb-proof supports and beams and has also been provided with other security measures.
Today the Pentagon is a symbol of the Department of Defense, but also a symbol of the US military might.
Repeated target of attacks
In the 21st century, the pentagonal Pentagon has been a recurring target. The most historic is that of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. One of the four aircraft hijacked that morning, a Boeing 757, took off from Washington Dulles that day and would actually have flown to Los Angeles. However, the aircraft was directed back to Washington and the Boeing 757 crashed into the west facade of the Pentagon in this attack. The day corresponds to the 60th anniversary of the start of construction.
This part of the pentagon was being renovated at the time, which is why there were only 800 there instead of 4,500 people. It was thanks to this fact and the fortified construction of the Pentagon, the security windows and the sprinkler system that “only” 184 people lost their lives back then. Since the part had only just been renovated, the sprinkler system was more modern than in other parts, the walls were already reinforced with steel and concrete and explosion-proof windows had been installed.
Two of the other hijacked aircraft were directed into the towers of the World Trade Center. The fourth was crashed by the hijackers pilot near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after fighting with passengers.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the destroyed part of the building had to be rebuilt. This rebuilding was surprisingly quick. On the 1st anniversary of the attacks, the destroyed section was rebuilt in just a few months. Cost: $ 500 million ($ 200 million less than originally estimated).
In contrast to the World Trade Center, the decision was made here to restore the original state as far as possible after the terrorist attacks. And it succeeded. On the anniversary there was nothing to be seen of the collapse.
There are many conspiracy theories surrounding the attacks that killed so many people, which ultimately led to the attack on the evening of March 4, 2010. That evening, US citizen John Patrick Bedell shot a gun at two security guards at the main entrance after they asked for his ID. These returned fire and hit Bedell in the head. The assassin died a few hours later in the hospital.
A pioneer in desegregation
When the Pentagon was being planned, it was still the rule in Virginia that separate dining areas and toilets were built for blacks and whites. This is how it was originally intended when the building was constructed. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had raced segregation in the military as early as June 1941 and had the “For whites only” signs removed immediately when visiting the construction site. The Pentagon was the only building in the history of the state of Virginia, in the beginning and for a long time, in which racial segregation was prohibited.
What is the Pentagon’s job?
The term Pentagon is used both for the building itself and for the US Department of Defense itself. The Ministry of Defense’s tasks include:
- Military and financial planning
- US armed forces training
- Equipment of the US armed forces
- Deployment of the US armed forces
- Command of the US armed forces