Heart of American Empire.

Last week, former mayor Anthony Williams gave a talk before a bunch of history and geography geeks about the executive’s role as city planner, in which he articulated his understanding of the meaning of D.C.’s monumental core.

“In my view, the capital is in the center, and the vision here is to show a repudiation of the private realm,” he said, pointing to an aerial shot of the National Mall. “This is a public realm now, a realm of inclusion, a new capital of an empire of liberty stretching from coast to coast…It’s like your identity, it’s how you think about yourself, it’s how you present yourself to the world.”

Quite true. It’s interesting, though, how very different nations can end up having similar designs for their capital cities.

Take Versailles, for example, which served as the capital of France under the very imperial Louis XIV. L’Enfant was influenced by that design, but America’s founders were trying to get as far as possible away from the example of the government it hosted. (Below is Versailles as planned; the real thing is pretty similar). 

And it’s not just Western capitals. The Forbidden City in Beijing, China, has a similar symmetrical layout and low-rise complex of buildings.

And then there’s the capital city of Panem, the Hunger Games‘ imagined future for American empire.

It’s supposed to be a playground for the wealthy and powerful, like Andrew Furguson sees D.C. It has walls like Beijing, and frivolous, fashion-conscious residents with outlandish hairdos like Versailles, as well as the central axis common to all three imperial cities.

This new seat of government, however, is more built-up than the rest, more cosmopolitan. Could this be our next capital, in a time when population and commerce mix more freely with the public realm? It doesn’t seem so terrible, from an urban design standpoint. And at least in this future, America has bullet trains.