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Global food issues/World Bank's Gilded Headquarters
For your info - an insight into the World Bank, it's priorities, and it's
disconnection from the people it is supposed to serve.... P. Dines
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From: Rich Winkel, INTERNET:rich%pencil@UKCC.uky.edu
To: Patricia Dines, 73652,1202
Date: Sat, Apr 5, 1997, 4:19 AM
Subject: World Bank's Gilded Headquarters
/** econ.saps: 216.0 **/
** Topic: IPS: WB's Gilded Headquarters **
** Written 9:11 AM Mar 31, 1997 by dgap in cdp:econ.saps **
Copyright 1997 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
*** 25-Mar-97 ***
Title: FINANCE-DEVELOPMENT: Gilded World Bank Headquarters 'Not
by Abid Aslam
WASHINGTON, Mar 25 (IPS) - The children of wealthy parents are
said to have been born with silver spoons in their mouths. But
gold on the dining room wall? Welcome to the World Bank.
Gold leaf adorns a curved wall in an executive dining room at
the Bank's gleaming new headquarters just west of the White House,
in a neighbourhood known as Washington's Wall Street district.
The dining room nestles deep in the bowels of the 314-million-
dollar building. Although officials deny it is Bank president
James Wolfensohn's private domain, architectural and catering
staff call it ''the president's dining room.''
At an estimated 25 dollars per sq. foot, the gold leaf on the
wall cost some 3,600 dollars. This is ''not an extravagant
amount'' and is similar to the cost of vinyl wall covering, a Bank
For this sum, however, the government-audited, non-profit
Alameda County Community Food Bank in California could provide
some 9,090 meals to the homeless and to poor people with AIDS,
according to Tom Gleeson, the group's development director.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), says it could
purchase 45,000 auto-destruct syringes for child immunisation with
that sum. For one dollar, the agency can buy enough vaccination to
immunise 14 children against tuberculosis, or cure as many
children of intestinal worms. For 3,600 dollars, the agency says,
its could protect 51,429 children against blindness with a year's
supply of vitamin A capsules.
''There's no question that money could have done a lot of good
for humanity, here or in poorer countries,'' Gleeson says.
''Especially with the attitudes and environment of welfare
restrictions today, resources are really badly needed.''
The World Bank seems to have plenty to spare. In addition to
the burnished dining room, 12-karat gold leaf glints from the
walls of an executive boardroom and an adjoining lounge with a
commanding view of the city. There, executive directors can
recline amid potted bamboo and enjoy snacks from their very own
The gold leaf was applied painstakingly, using techniques
handed down by the makers of 19th-century statuary, says Joseph
Ruocco of the New York firm of Kohn Pederson Fox, the building's
In addition, aluminium leaf glitters in the building's
monochromatic lobby and atrium, the glass roof of which rises some
thirteen stories above ground and will be lit at night.
A Bank spokesman notes, however, that the precious coverings
account for about one percent of the building's surface area.
At an estimated one million dollars, the controversial leafing
accounts for a small portion of the 314 million dollars the Bank
has so far spent on the shimmering complex of glass, metal, and
Due for completion in September, the project is some 100
million dollars over budget.
Bank officials, embarrassed when the cost overruns first came
to light a few years ago, are quick to point out that, at 135
dollars per sq. foot, the new headquarters is not particularly
expensive for a corporate flagship.
Ruocco says his company's creation pays homage to the Bank's
mission, e~en as it projects a well-lit, 21st-century image for
Two pre-existing buildings were engulfed by the new
headquarters, rather than demolished, to mirror the Bank's
''policy of assisting existing societies, not demolishing them,''
Ruocco says. Four other buildings were demolished, however.
The building is dominated by its imposing atrium, which Ruocco
describes as the Bank's ''general living room''. Only this living
room has not only Bertoia lounge chairs, but a 28-foot waterfall,
a bridge from which staff can gaze into a reflecting pool two
stories down, and a 'reception terrace' raised two stories above
Some 2,000 people can be entertained in this living room, the
The atrium's pillars of raw concrete are meant as a nod to
''third world societies, who use lots of raw materials,'' the
The pillars' bases are wrapped in stainless steel plates,
representing Earth's tectonic plates, as if the continents
themselves were coming together in the lobby of the World Bank.
As with many other surfaces in the building, lines etched into
the stainless steel evoke the map-maker's grid.
On a clear day, sunlight bursts into the airy atrium from all
sides and filters underground, to a flashy cafeteria and plush
private dining rooms, where the lamps and china were designed by
Meanwhile, the Alameda County food bank's volunteers are
finding it more difficult to find food to deliver to shelters for
homeless people, churches, and AIDS hospices.
In recent years, food producers, distributors, and supermarket
chains have adopted 'just-in-time' supply operations to cut down
on overproduction and warehouse costs. As warehouse stocks
dwindle, so does the amount of aging food that would have been
donated rather than dumped, Gleeson explains.
In response, the food bank has had to ''cultivate year-round
community food drives,'' during which local residents bring their
own donations of food to community events, he adds.
These realities need not intrude upon Bank staffers' enjoyment
of an espresso bar planned for a balcony overlooking the atrium.
So self-contained is the new headquarters, that 'Washington
Post' critic Benjamin Forgey notes, ''the building is like an
ocean liner in that it very nearly is a self-sufficient vessel.
Once you get on board, you don't necessarily want or need to get
PD NOTE: Do I hear an iceberg hitting the boat? (No, just ignore it, and
the sounds of the children in pain...) Perhaps then it's just the sound of
Nero fiddling as Rome burns...
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