Virtual Museum of Public Service

Architecture and Public Works

"What vast additions to the conveniences and comforts of living might mankind have acquired, if the money spent in wars had been employed in works of public utility; what an extension of agriculture even to the tops of our mountains; what rivers rendered navigable, or joined by canals; what bridges, aqueducts, new roads, and other public works, edifices, and improvements might not have been obtained by spending those millions in doing good, which in the last war have been spent in doing mischief." - Benjamin Franklin

“Public works” entails a broad array of improvement projects, including development and maintenance of public utilities, bridges and roadways, parks, airports, municipal buildings, communication networks, and many other physical and virtual assets. These are essential to the conduct of society, as many of the forces that impact our lives on a day-to-day basis are impacted by public works. However, these services and infrastructure are so often used that they blend into the background fabric of life, and individuals may not recognize the centrality of the public sector in the provision of these necessities.

Public works professionals include laborers, technicians, craftsmen, engineers, and administrators. During the Great Depression, public works provided jobs and a morale boost for Americans, while helping build many key structures and facilities still vital to the country’s modern infrastructure. Civic architecture defines public institutions and venues as focal points in the landscape of cities, towns and villages. In your mind, picture a city hall, a bandshell, a hospital, a library, a memorial or monument. Envision your favorite parks, schools and universities. These institutions and sites are sources of great community pride, in part due to their architectural magnificence.

In many cases, civic architecture is designed to ensure that public venues can accommodate large numbers of the public, to facilitate meaningful interaction between the public and with government. Public venues also serve an important local economic purpose by supporting cultural entertainment, festivals, farmer’s markets, and small business and entrepreneurial activities. The items in the Civic Architecture and Public Works gallery illuminate the presence of public service in our daily activities as well as less significant moments, both individual and societal. As you review these items, we invite you to consider how the places you frequent and the infrastructure you use is possible because of the public sector.

Architecture and Public Works