Housing Complex

Occupy DC Builds a “People’s Pentagon”


The incomplete Occupy HQ. (Lydia DePillis)

As the cold descends, McPherson Square's occupiers have kept busy figuring out how to keep themselves comfortable. A key part of that planning came together last night, in the form of a one-room building that's been called a shed, a barn, and most often simply a "structure,"  for the purpose of holding general assemblies and serving as an emergency shelter.

That was one infraction too many for the Park Police, who have been arresting people and surrounding the square with vehicles all day; occupiers on the roof have donned gas masks in anticipation of being pepper sprayed. At the time of this posting, most of those gathered in the incomplete frame have been carted away.

I'm more interested in the building itself, though. It's an elegant design, with walls that lean out to create a very roomy-feeling interior. According to one of the architects, Cecelia Azurduy, the shape is symbolic, rather than structural: It's called the "People's Pentagon," mimicking the headquarters of the U.S. military. "We wanted to reclaim the geometry," she says (here's a better view of the shape).

The shell of the building, made out of two-by-fours and plywood, was constructed within the span of a few hours last night. It went quickly, because whole thing had come in six prefabricated pieces, and only needed to be bolted together with a drill. The plan, according to Azerduy, had been to roof it with tar paper and face the south wall with plastic sheeting for light and passive heating. The builders also planned to strap water bottles to the walls as insulation, filling them halfway with water to better serve as a heat sink. The floor was to be covered with hay, and the walls have stepped benches for stadium seating.

Throughout the afternoon standoff, occupiers have insisted that the structure is legal because it's "temporary," and not rooted to the ground. That's sort of true. The relevant Park Service regs read:

In connection with permitted demonstrations or special events, temporary structures may be erected for the purpose of symbolizing a message or meeting logistical needs such as first aid facilities, lost children areas or the provision of shelter for electrical and other sensitive equipment or displays. Temporary structures may not be used outside designated camping areas for living accommodation activities such as sleeping, or making preparations to sleep (including the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping), or storing personal belongings, or making any fire, or doing any digging or earth breaking or carrying on cooking activities. The above-listed activities constitute camping when it reasonably appears, in light of all the circumstances, that the participants, in conducting these activities, are in fact using the area as a living accommodation regardless of the intent of the participants or the nature of any other activities in which they may also be engaging.

But the Pentagon would certainly be stretching the definition of "temporary." Azerduy says the hydroponic greenhouse inside—to be irrigated by runoff from the roof—is meant mostly for growing tomatoes when the spring comes. I point out that that's a good three months from now.

"Yeah, I mean, nothing is really permanent," she replies.

At around 4:30, a building inspector came through, took a quick look at the structure, and posted orange "DANGER" signs on the plywood (there were apparently several code violations). So we may not see the architectural imagination of Occupy DC come to fruition.

  • Southeast Ken

    My question, where do these white kids get their money from to survive? Do they have jobs? I saw on ABC 7 News how surly these kids were to the Park Police. Some used profanity and fought back against the Park Police. I can assure you, if these groups had been black, their assrses would have been kicked out of Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square a long time ago and the Park Police would have beat the crap out of them. Enough is enough, white privilege kids. Go home!

  • That was like WACO but with less weird sex and fire

    In the grand tradition of the Yippies levitating the Pentagon, the Park Service levitated the shit out of the People's Pentagon.

    With a bulldozer. So it was like a lateral levitation.

  • Cap City Records Panhandler

    +infinite @ SE Ken

  • That was like WACO but with less weird sex and fire

    Hey Ken!

    Don't tokenize the people of color that were there. Yes, it was majority white but people of color are a very active and driving presence in the leadership down there. I for one am looking forward to doing more actions in the broader DC community to focus on issues that engage the day-to-day reality of living in this city and I think other people are as well.

    As for the jobs question, it's a mixed bag. Most people who are a part of the occupation at large have some sort of job, don't stay there 24/7 and only sleep there a couple of nights a week in rotation. The square tends to empty at day time as people go to day jobs--and a lot of people work in the service sector. There are also people down there who are unemployed (or underemployed) and people who are homeless who were occupying the park before Occupy DC even started. So it's not appropriate to brand this as either rich white privileged kids (as it's not all kids for one) or broke hippies.

    And people are able to survive down there because everything runs on donations and scavenging and it's free.

  • Erik Bootsma

    "Temporary structures may not be used outside designated camping areas for living accommodation activities such as sleeping, or making preparations to sleep (including the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping), or storing personal belongings, or making any fire, or doing any digging or earth breaking or carrying on cooking activities. "

    Um haven't they been doing the above for months? Thanks NPS for looking the other way here while kicking Barcelona FC off the Ellipse. Jerks.

  • Purely Architectural Commentary

    So apparently an "architect" designed that? Show me her DC Architectural Registration. That structure, regardless of its symbolism, lies SO FAR outside the building code that it truly is inherently unsafe.

  • Its Time For Those Idiots to Leave

    I, for one, am glad the Park Police have finally taken a stand. Those Occumorons have ruined a beautiful public park that had just been refurbished. "Free speech" does not include overnight encampment, and whatever message that may have been intended is totally overshadowed by the unpleasantry of having to deal with the Occumorons smell, trash, and constantly screwing up traffic.

  • goldfish

    I think SE Ken has a point.

    Point another way, if instead of good-look and well-spoken people in the early 20s, the occupiers were toothless homeless types that smelled bad and slurred their words, well we know what would happen. Regardless of color.

  • Typical DC BS

    @goldfish: So true. The Occupy movement long ago careened into the ridiculous phase.

  • Sam

    Are any of you interested in talking about the issues or just lobbing ad hominem insults against people you've never met? Do you think everything is okay in our country?

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  • Sara

    Jezzus!!! Your environmentally-sound and beautiful piece of crap is destroying public property... i.e. the city grass thats going to have to be replanted when your lot decides to stop squatting! Write to your congressmen... stand on the sidewalk... freeze your asses off all night if you choose... but please just leave... and stop calling yourselves the 99%... I am not part of you, nor am I part of the 1%, so please don't even act like you represent me.

  • Lori S

    Sara, seriously? The grass? This is what concerns you? Millions of Americans have lost their homes, their jobs, their health care and their retirement savings while a miniscule percentage of the ultra-wealthy grew wealthier at their expense, broke anti-trust laws, broke banking laws and broke every moral law you can think of, not only without paying for it but actually got paid twice for it ... once by the people they stole it from and again by the government bailing them out ... and you're concerned about the grass?

    And if you believe that writing to your Congressman without tucking a check for at least a million dollars in with it will even get your letter in front of him or her, you're living in a dream world. You may not feel the pinch in your personal life yet, but I assure you, they're fighting to protect your interests, too. This is not an anti-money or anti-work protest, it's an anti-corruption protest. It's honest-to-god democracy in action. That thing Americans say they send their most precious sons and daughters to die for. The OWS protesters are the future of this country. Lead, follow or get out of the way.

    And don't fret. The grass will grow again. DC is chock-full of manure.

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  • Human Being

    Lori S......Congrats on your eloquence in responding to Sara and others whom might be reading this site because " It's there job or duty" . (Adolph Eichman used that as his defense too in reference to the latter....anyway

    You are so so correct and informed ! The " Powers that Be, their henchmen/women and political parties are all about the continuing divide and conquering of minds.....as long as "they" can distract the people whom their stealing from, cheating, adding suffering too and causing their early deaths, all the better for them to be able "TO CARRY OUT " their population decreases without spending too much of their money doing so........Americans are NOT off their lists....just a slight bit farther down.....they need people like Sara to continue to work for them in helping carry out their agendas......freely doing so or by covert means, doesn't affect them in the lest.......WAKE UP PEOPLE ( and I don't mean corporations giving the same status as a person way back at the end of the 1880's and again affirmed in January 2010 by the appointed Supreme Court of the Untied States...hey wait a minute Supreme, I thought they left that title for GOD)........carry on Lori S and the many like her.....Sara is going to come around sooner or later and lets hope for her sake and those like her, it's sooner.....May we all find our hearts, (well except for Dick Cheney, protected war criminal, he bought someone else's heart ) so that we can understand that we are Human Beings, part of of the greater family of beings, and join together as one for the greatest good of all and the earth......I know very idealist thinking, though, it is possible as Richie Havens said, if we all just make up our minds and act upon that information......Peace and blessings to all the lost, fearful and heartless ones......Grace through action and education for the rest of us ! Sincerely, One Human Being

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