Case Study: Changing the Concept of Government Buildings

The main building in the Kane County Government Complex in Kane County, Illinois.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

There is a saying among fans of some architecture schools that form should serve function and the design of a building should be aligned with the building’s purpose. This often comes to fruition as a gray, excessively utilitarian design: square, blocky, and supposedly designed with no frills in order to provide maximum efficiency. For decades, this was the driving architectural consideration for government buildings, which is why they frequently err on the side of monolithic. Their function is to get people in and out without any fuss; therefore, the design should be the same.

A counter-argument to that would insist that the function of a government building isn’t just to process papers but to serve the people, and to make them feel like a part of the democratic system we have set up. One could even make the case that the dim and un-imaginative school of government buildings is antithetical to that purpose. Indeed, the dull and purely functionary gloom many of them evoke actually alienates people from their own government.

Today, let’s take a look at an example of a government building that has eschewed the more stoic school of architecture so we can see how making a smart real estate choice can have a positive impact on the people inside (and even outside) for decades to come.

Case Study in Smart Government Buildings: Kane County, IL

The Fox River burbles up from marshlands in southern Wisconsin and picks up steam as it rolls south to merge with the Illinois on its way to the Mississippi, and thence the world. In Illinois, it runs through some heavy industrial area, and it was heavily polluted for awhile. It is cleaner now, though, and as those river towns moved away from industry, they began to take care of the river and tend its banks. Even in towns the river is met with beauty.

At one point, in the town of Geneva in Kane County, it rolls past a cluster of buildings tucked into a woodsy seclusion along its banks. The buildings are old, built from brick, and boast towers, making them reminiscent of another era. These are the government buildings for Kane County, a county of a half-million people west of Chicago, where the expanding exurbs begin intruding into the Illinois farmland. Someone driving by could be forgiven for not recognizing that these were official government buildings. They certainly don’t evoke a bureaucratic feeling. That’s because they weren’t always government buildings. In fact, they used to be a seminary.

When Kane County was expanding during the last century, it kept running out of room for its official buildings. It built several new courthouses, including some real beauties, but a booming population needed more room. Despite coming of age in the height of the “form serves function” phenomenon, Kane County rejected that ethos and went to look for land. The Sacred Heart Seminary, a turn-of-the-century institution, was selling, and so they bought it. In doing so, they provided an important lesson for expanding governments looking to find more room for less money.

Consider Unusual Buildings

This is cheaper than buying land and putting new offices in them, and most of the time, the end result is far nicer than another storefront DMV. A cluster of buildings like this was in the community, but not intrusive. The infrastructure was already there, and while it has been continually updated throughout the years, it provided an established zone of operations.

Community Integration

Not only is the building not an intrusion, but it’s even a pleasure to visit. If you were to walk around the grounds, you might even see people picnicking and enjoying the relaxed vibe of the area. Once inside, even mundane tasks like standing in line feel less painful. There is no need for a government building to feel like its ultimate goal is to exact punishment on its users. By making the space welcoming, it becomes an integrated space within the local community, rather than merely the site of a dreaded administrative task.

Flexible Use of Space

Because Kane County Government Complex is actually composed of several established buildings, the offices are assigned to different buildings throughout the area based on function. This allows for shorter lines in each building and substantially less confusion for visitors.

Needless to say, not every county or city has the option of an old seminary on a picturesque river. Luckily, you don’t need it. You just need to expand the idea of what a government building could be. Limiting your real estate options to traditional office spaces can make you miss real opportunities to not just find less expensive property, but to help redefine the government experience for your citizens.

Architectural trends come and go. Style goes in and out. But what doesn’t change is the need for government buildings to be responsive and adaptive to the public. By expanding your real estate search to non-traditional venues, you have a great chance to fulfill your function, regardless of the form.

If your government agency is seeking new facilities, you don’t have to go it alone. You can get a thorough analysis of the market with all the available options from a consultant whose community values align with your own. Contact DCG Real Estate today to learn more.