In New York City last weekend I walked several times past this building:
The building is known as 33 Thomas St.. The Wikipedia article calls it “an extreme example of the Brutalist architectural style”, which seems like a perfect description to me. You have to walk by at the tail end of dusk, and crane your neck to search for the top, to realize how imposing this building is. Its windowless granite faces are folded into geometric forms but unbroken save for rows of massive cooling ducts. By height, it would be 9th tallest building in Boston, or a sinister mechanical match to the Washington Monument.
I could hardly guess its mysterious purpose, so I looked it up … and in fact, the building is a switch, a massive monolithic machine whose sole purpose is to redirect incoming signals immediately to their intended destination. It’s connected to myriad subterranean copper and fiber-optic cables, originally routing telephone calls but now arbitrary data. If the scale of this doesn’t inspire awe, then you haven’t considered the capacity of a building’s worth of single-mode fiber.
On the way home I walked by the James Farley Post Office:
The building is immense and gleaming, spanning two city blocks and featuring the largest colonnade ever built. At its peak it was open to process mail 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s surrounded by a moat wider than most city streets, maybe just to show off that it extends as far below ground as above. As I walked by, I realized: this thing is also a switch, a great machine only slightly less automated than the network routers that have made it obsolete.
The coup de grâce, though, happened when I walked around the post office to reveal this perspective:
Sixteen lines of heavy rail run directly under the post office. The grand switch of the paper age sits directly above an underground railyard, which is itself a packet switch for rolling steel.