The US Senate Chamber on Columbia Point

The United States Senate has been in the news rather a lot lately. The American people focused a great deal of attention on it during the recent impeachment trial, even if TV viewers had a restricted view.  Although the cameras couldn’t pan around the chamber then, you can see the whole thing now simply by going to Dorchester.

Edward M Kennedy Institute for the US Senate, Dorchester, Columbia PointThe Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, located on the end of Columbia Point, houses the only full-scale representation of the U.S. Senate Chamber. It hosts a variety of programs for both school groups and adults. The halls lining the Chamber are known as the Chamber Surround, and feature the majority of the Institute’s exhibits.

The EMK Institute’s Senate replica isn’t a secret—certainly not a hidden gem. It just doesn’t get as many visitors as other Boston attractions, or even the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum next door.

Unlike most historical museums, the EMK Institute doesn’t focus on preserving artifacts that tell a story of a certain time period or represent an historical even. The Core 77 Design Award won by ESI Design in 2016 states that

“It embodies the Senator’s idea for a new kind of cultural space, a place where people can participate in an inspiring, hands-on experience that deepens and expands their understanding of the Senate throughout history to the present day.”

Visiting the Senate Chamber

I visited the EMK Institute recently for an event hosted by UBS and was taken, as on a previous occasion, with how It feels to sit in the chamber. Your left brain knows that it’s not the original, but your right brain can’t help feeling a sense of history as well as significance.

EMK Institute, Senate Chamber, Edward M Kennedy

The Senate Chamber

We listened to a panel of expert speakers and didn’t get to vote on anything. Still, I sensed how awesome it must be like for a newly elected freshman senator to sit at a desk that might have been used by a famous lawmaker, knowing that he/she is about to take their place in history.

When the EMK Institute ordered these desks It constituted the first mass production of United States Senate desks since the New York cabinet maker Thomas Constantine created the original 48 in 1819.

Sitting in the chamber reminded me, oddly enough, of how I felt when I visited the old Star Trek exhibit at the Las Vegas Hilton. When I stepped out onto the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, I knew it was only a replica, that I was in the Mojave Desert and not the Mutara Nebula, that I was a corporate employee and not a crew member. It didn’t matter. I still couldn’t stop smiling.

Motivating Future Public Servants

As I listened to the speakers, I wondered how many schoolchildren with visions of public service would be even more motivated after a virtual trip to the Senate Chamber. Given the deplorable state of civics education in this country, I like to find anything that will make American government more immediate and memorable. This historic space would certainly create more of an impression on schoolchildren than another classroom lecture would.

US Senate Chamber, EMK Institute, historic desks

The Historic Desks

That education starts before you even walk in the door. Fifty polished granite bollards line the entrance path, 25 to a side, each engraved with the name of a state. This tells students that each state has two senators for a total of 100. Inside, the architecture is minimal, refusing to make a statement of its own. The center, and the focal point, of the Institute is the Senate Chamber, which you can enter on all four sides.

Once inside, you take a seat at one of the replica mahogany desks, and look around you. The colors, the lighting, the marble and woodwork, as well as the decorations reflect the original Senate chamber. (It includes a replica of the famous candy desk but minus the sweets.)  Only the podium at the front of the chamber looks different—lower than the original—and the AV screen behind it improves on what’s in Washington DC.

The EMK Institute Building

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate doesn’t occupy a knock-out building with cutting-edge design. No egotistical starchitect put his personal stamp on this structure. Instead, the 68,000-square-foot structure is a simple white building designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly that keeps a low profile. It complements but does not compete with the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum next door. The expanding high-rise structures of the University of Massachusetts across the street have begun to dwarf it, though.

Additional Exhibits

The EMK Institute features a replica of Senator Kennedy’s Washington, D.C. office, a Special Exhibits gallery, an Orientation Theater, and three technologically equipped classrooms for educational programs and breakout sessions. Visitors also find a café and a gift shop, You can also see a selection of Senator Kennedy’s watercolor paintings.

The Institute’s concept, design, and production are the result of a collaboration between Senator Edward M. Kennedy, his wife Vicki Reggie Kennedy, and Edwin Schlossberg of ESI Design. Mr. Schlossberg (husband of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg) designed the exhibitions and programs. During the production process, Control Group was brought on for software development, Richard Lewis Media Group for media elements, Electrosonic for projection technology, and Gigantic Mechanic for educational game mechanics.

Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate

EMK Institute, Edward M Kennedy Institute for the US Senate, Columbia Point, DorchesterColumbia Point 210 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA, 02125
Phone: 617-740-7000

Directions: Click Here

Depending on the route you take, you may pass by the old Calf Pasture Pumping Station. You can learn more about it in this post.