The mystique-filled area of the White House where presidents have observed counterterrorism operations and discussed top-secret intelligence for decades has received a $50 million upgrade, its first in 16 years.
The year-long “gut renovation” of the White House Situation Room — a windowless complex on the ground floor of the West Wing spanning more than 5,000 square feet — upgraded the facility’s security, technology and upholstery. The entire space was demolished and rebuilt to allow for the functional and cosmetic enhancements, completed in August.
The blue carpet and mahogany walls in the main conference room and other parts of complex maintain the same classic look as previous iterations of the facility.
“It’s a marriage of the traditional and the modern,” Marc Gustafson, senior director for the Situation Room, told reporters Thursday. He added that it was “difficult” to reach the right balance.
President Biden began using the new Situation Room, known inside the White House as the “whizzer,” on Tuesday after cutting the ribbon.
“Folks, the newly renovated White House Situation Room is up and running,” he wrote Friday on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter. “My thanks to everyone who worked on this incredible facility.”
The revamp effort was undertaken with the goal of never having to do another gut renovation of the space, Gustafson said. Modular designs and removable panels will allow for new technology and other upgrades to be swapped in without gutting the Situation Room in the future.
The most famous part of the complex, the John F. Kennedy Room, now features a new, oval-shaped wood table and six new leather chairs on each side. Another chair is positioned at the head of the table for the president, vice president or national security adviser. Interchangeable seals are displayed behind that chair to mark whether the president or another official is present.
The room is encompassed by video monitors on three walls, enabling officials to monitor covert operations and hold calls with foreign leaders.
After years of “heavy wear and tear,” the space now looks more like its Hollywood depictions, Gustafson said. It also now has the necessary capabilities to “instantaneously” project information onto screens to be viewed by the president.
Gustafson declined to describe all the security enhancements but said the new Situation Room “is really as secure of a facility as you can have right now.” He said the security upgrades were especially necessary to “keep up with foreign adversaries” determined to maintain a technological edge over the United States.
Another famous section of the facility, the room where President Barack Obama and his top aides watched the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, has been replaced by two smaller breakout rooms. The previous room was preserved for future display at Obama’s presidential library in Chicago.
In recent years, President Donald Trump sat in the Situation Room while monitoring the U.S. Special Operations forces raid that took out Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019. Three years later, President Biden used the Situation Room to watch the counterterrorism operation that led to the death of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who succeeded Baghdadi as leader of the Islamic State.