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Spending Twenty Minutes at Union Station

D.C. is filled with architecturally interesting public spaces. To get an idea of how people are using these spaces, Curbed writers are spending twenty minutes in a given location and taking note. Want to nominate a place for this series? Hit up our tipline. Here's what happened between 1:35-1:55 p.m. today in Union Station.


Everybody coming up the Metro escalator is on a mission. At least it seems that way since everyone has a suitcase, a determined look on their face and a hastened step. A homeless guy sits at the top of the escalator talking loudly. He doesn't have a sign and he's not asking for money. He's just talking loudly and nonsensically into the crowd until he waves his hand saying, "Go ahead. Go ahead." Of course the only person that had actually stopped at the top of the escalator, a woman with multiple bags was paying more attention to her phone than to him.

Stepping away from the metro exit, Union Station starts to look less like a concrete hallway and more like an architectural achievement. This is one of the pavilions adjoining the Main Hall and although it doesn't have the 96 foot tall ceiling, it's still an impressive granite dome. It's also the first space where someone actually looks impressed with the space around them. A family of (relatively unhurried) adults takes the escalator to the top floor and looks around them.

"We can start up and work our way down."
"How pretty is it?"
"I know!"

This is not what most people are doing. Some women are trying on hats at a kiosk and giggling like it's not 35 degrees and awful outside. One man in a yellow WMATA vest is letting a man in a tan sweater know in a very animated voice what is what.

"I'm their supervisor. They don't get any brownie points."

It gets progressively noiser the closer one gets to the trains and the food court. There are escalators going down, but also large spiraled marble staircases leading to the restaurants. They're bedecked in Christmas garlands because apparently that's already seasonally appropriate. Off in the corner, two of the Redskins cheerleaders pose for pictures by a table sponsored by the Lottery. One man walks by and says, "What famous people are these?" Snarky or clueless?

The Main Hall itself is the most majestic part of the station but it's also the quietest. There's a mesh netting roping off the domed ceiling since they're fixing the gold leaf ornamentation. A few of the statues around the room have boxes over top of them to protect them from the construction. It's decidedly darker in this part of the building.

Perhaps that's why nobody is rushing. In fact most of the people in the Main Hall are just sitting and waiting. Nobody's rushing around but nobody's looking up and around in awe either. Instead there are just large groups of people sitting on the wide wooden benches or enormous marble planters and waiting. A few check their phones, the cafe is a flurry of conversation and one couple meanders over to the people setting up a giant model railway. However, most people just sit and wait. It's the calmest place in one of D.C.'s busiest locations.


· Union Station (Washington, D.C.) [Wikipedia]