A Softer Edifice

War monuments on Washington, D.C.'s National Mall tend toward the phallic—most famously, the obelisk honoring revolutionary hero and first President George Washington. Hardly surprising, as nation-building and machismo go hand in hand.

But if the latest structure to break ground on the Mall is any indication, we're ripe for a foreign-policy sea change. The U.S. Institute for Peace—a federal agency dedicated to war-zone conflict resolution—is erecting a new home that suggests Mahatma Gandhi more than Manifest Destiny. The five-story edifice will boast a stunning curved roof (smooth, white and shaped like the wings of a dove) to envelop offices and an educational peace center. The architecture is a study in juxtaposition: round and angular in equal measure.

The shape of the planned headquarters hints at the confusing double role the United States now finds itself in: juggling international peacekeeping commitments with the messy and ongoing Iraq War and the administration's nebulous War on Terror. The building won't be finished until after Bush administration has left office, making way for a president perhaps more committed to negotiating with foreign governments. If so, the timing for a softer monument couldn't be more apt.