The Pentagon

The pentagon is the iconic headquarters of the US Department of Defense and, in terms of area, the world’s largest office building. The Pentagon is one of the world’s most heavily protected buildings.

In the early days of the Second World War, it became clear that the rapidly expanding US Department of War needed new headquarters to consolidate its operations. The Department’s chief engineer at the time, Brigadier Brehon B. Somervell came up with the basic designs for what would become the pentagon after what he described as a very busy weekend in July 1941. Several locations were earmarked as potential sites before President Roosevelt decided on the plot of the recently closed Washington-Hoover Airport.

The breaking of ground for the new headquarters occurred on 11 September 1941. Several concessions to wartime circumstances were made in the construction process. Principally, the architects employ limited use of steel which was then In short supply. This meant, for instance, that ramps were built between roofs rather than lifts being installed. The Pentagon’s basic fabric is reinforced concrete, with Indiana limestone used on the facade. The site was conveniently located on what was essentially waste ground and swampland by the Potomac River, which was dredged for sand and gravel to be used in cement making.

The building rises 23 meters (75 ft) into the air and each side is 281 meters (922 ft) in length, covering an area of 14 hectares (34 acres) including the central courtyard and providing workspace for 24,000 employees. It consists of five concentric pentagons of five floors each, joined by ten interconnecting ‘spoke’ corridors. There are more than 28 Km of corridors, yet the clever design means that no two points are more than seven minutes’ walk apart. The original construction phase took only 16 months and was completed at a cost of US$83 million. When it was officially opened on 15 January 1943, the pentagon consolidated some 17 departments of War offices.

In 11998, the Pentagon Renovation program began - the first major overhaul in the building’s history. Work was carried out in phases over 13 years, and among its provisions were the installation of improved security systems and steel reinforcements to strengthen the building’s concrete structure. Blast resistant windows were also fitted.

2001 attach served only to further focus concentration on security. In early 2002, the Defense Department established the Pentagon Force Protection Agency (PFPA), a direct successor to the federal protective service and the United States special Policemen. While focusing on law enforcement, the PFPA’s remit has extended to include security. The first line of defense for the Pentagon and its environs is the PFPA’s Pentagon police.

Other security measures added in recent years include the removal of all direct access into the Pentagon from the Metrorail station that serves it, and the filtering of road traffic away from the building. Members of the public are permitted to tour the Pentagon but must book a time in advance, undergo a security screening, provide identification and pass through metal detectors.


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