Lincoln vs. Jefferson

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The Jefferson Memorial, by John Russell Pope, on the Tidal Basin. (Wikipedia)

A comparison of the Lincoln and the Jefferson memorials is almost as fascinating, in some ways even more so, than a comparison of Messrs. Lincoln and Jefferson themselves. Since I can add little to the second conversation I will confine myself, on this Independence Day, to the first.

For reasons that will become clear, I am not including Washington’s nearby commemorative obelisk in this analysis of our dear nation’s most sacred monuments. Washington is the father of our country, while Jefferson and Lincoln, both beloved, still vie for No. 2 in the ranking of presidential fame. But their rivalry is not the reason their monuments are discussed herein.

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Lincoln Memorial (NBC/AP)

The Lincoln Memorial honoring our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, heroic preserver of the Union, was completed in 1922. The Jefferson Memorial, honoring our third president after Washington and Adams, a founder of our nation and of the Democratic-Republican Party, and, of course, author of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, was completed in 1943. The design of Lincoln’s monument by the classicist Henry Bacon as a Greek temple was largely uncontroversial after the proposal for a more modest design, supposedly more in keeping with Lincoln’s character – a log cabin (much smaller, it may be presumed, and not of wood) – was rejected. Few changes to the original design were proposed. The statue of Lincoln by Daniel Chester French was doubled in size from 10 feet to 19 feet, so as to better fill the massive interior.

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The Lincoln Memorial arose at the west end of the National Mall, beyond a long, rectangular reflecting pool. Lincoln’s monument takes pride of place over Jefferson’s, which is sited on the far side of the Tidal Basin across the Mall from the White House. The two axes cross midway at the Washington Monument. But it is the Jefferson Memorial whose design sparked a battle royal that, so far as I am aware, no prior design of presidential memorials featured. That battle pitted heroic classicism against a then-upstart, tradition-averse modernism.

The Jefferson Memorial’s architect, John Russell Pope, made reference in its circular design to the Roman Pantheon and to Jefferson’s own design for the University of Virginia – especially the library, known as the Rotunda, that sits at the head of the “academical village” and Lawn, with its parallel formation of diverse classical pavilions. Pope in 1941 completed the National Gallery of Art in a stripped classical design – tradition’s response to the rising challenge of modern architecture – perhaps the last major federal building of classical design in the nation’s capital until the huge Ronald Reagan Building in 1998, completing the massive Federal Triangle project. The plan for a memorial to Jefferson was a late addition to the Federal Triangle plan, most of whose 10 classical buildings were complete by the mid-1930s.

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Pope’s classical proposal for the memorial to Jefferson raised a fury among modernists, who were just then beginning to subvert tradition as the backbone of architecture in the United States and Europe. The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts opposed the design from the start, never granting approval, which thankfully was merely advisory. Women chained themselves to cherry trees on the site. Pope listened in silence as his design was criticized as “a tired architectural lie” using “styles that are safely dead.” William Hudnut, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, who had hired founding modernist Walter Gropius to teach and had destroyed the GSD’s famous collection of classical plaster casts, regretted that Pope’s design failed to provide an “abstract and universal expression in art.” He added:

In spite of Jefferson’s sympathy for the classic, shall we commemorate his simplicity and reticence by the most grandiloquent and splendiferous of monumental forms, his devotion to American culture, his democratic sympathies by an Imperial utterance?. … [It] will embody so grotesque a presentation of Jefferson’s character as to make him – if such a thing is possible – forever ridiculous.

Ridiculous. But not nearly as ridiculous as current denunciations of President Lincoln and President Jefferson.

I love the Jefferson Memorial’s graceful, calming, rondurous form. Even more I love wandering  through the Lincoln Memorial’s interior spaces, gazing up at Honest Abe and viewing the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol down the corridors of the colonnade that surrounds the building. As a youth I would sit by myself on its broad steps and contemplate the city planned by Pierre L’Enfant. His plan still undergirds its historic urbanity. I once sat in on a Fine Arts Commission meeting at which the design by Providence’s own Friedrich St. Florian of the National WWII Memorial was almost pecked to death by ducks. Fortunately, the ducks lost. The memorial sits discreetly today between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, widely beloved by veterans.

Fortunately as well, the president presiding over the Jefferson Memorial design deliberations was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He stepped into the fray and ordered by fiat that Pope’s original proposal be completed. It was built, and dedicated in 1943, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth. Poor FDR. By the time his turn came around for a memorial of his own on the Mall, the modernists were powerful enough to ensure that it was modernist. While successive modernist proposals became less obnoxious over a span of almost four decades, the completed memorial, which opened in 1997, is dismal, a relatively mild precursor to the warts-and-all philosophy currently dragging down our national spirit. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

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L.A.’s over-the-top garage

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Garage for J.W. Robinson’s a Los Angeles department store. (Classic Planning)

This is, believe it or not, a parking garage.

I am informed by Nir Buras, author of The Art of Classic Planning, that the parking garage pictured above, built at 9th & Hill Sts. in Los Angeles in 1926, designed by Alexander Edward Curlett and Claud W. Beelman, once stored the cars of Angelenos shopping at J.W. Robinson’s, a nearby department store completed at 7th and Grand Avenue in 1915.

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The original Robinson’s. (USC Dornsife)

Buras, an architect, city planner and founder of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, whose book was published earlier this year, called the garage “my current favorite parking structure.”

Indeed, this garage is almost too much. Should a garage, any garage, look this grand? It is classical and it is beautiful, and it looks not like a garage but like the department store it serves. Is this okay? That sounds like the old saying that a typical building designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe looks like the box a lovelier building came in. Yet the over-the-top quality of the Robinson’s garage violates the classical principle of hierarchy, which holds that, say, a tackle shop must not look like a state capitol.

In this case, however, I’m not sure I’d agree. Violate that principle, sez I!

Alas, that’s exactly what L.A. did. If it had followed the Law of Hierarchy, it’s most imposing buildings would not make the Robinson Garage look like the Taj Mahal. Instead, the City of Angels thumbed its nose at hierarchy, so today most of its architecture would make a tackle shop cry out for mercy.

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Protect the statues, please!

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Statue of Christopher Columbus in Providence since 1893, now removed. (Wikipedia)

The statue of Christopher Columbus in Providence has been defaced in 2010, 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2020. Yesterday, amid American history’s most perfervid bout of iconoclasm, the statue was removed by the city for its protection. The municipal government of Providence is as feckless as they come, however, so it is far from clear whether Columbus was taken away to protect the statue or to protect the government’s derrière (CYA). Wikipedia asserts inanely that it was removed to protect the neighborhood.

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This particular statue of Columbus is a bronze copy of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s statue cast in silver by the Gorham Co. for display at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Bartholdi had previously sculpted the Statue of Liberty for New York Harbor. An article that year of 1893 in the journal Inland Printer described the art of his Columbus: “Life and vigor are implied in every line and feature, and the general effect is one of great beauty.” Its artistry is evident in the photos to the left and at the top of this post.

My dog in this current fight over statuary is largely aesthetic. I defend this Columbus because his statue is classical and beautiful. Although the statue aims to remind us of his bold voyage of discovery in 1492, when most Europeans, including many of his crew, feared that they would sail off the edge of the flat earth, my observation of this and other statuary takes the form mainly of thoughts generated by their quality as works of art.

I understand and sympathize with those who are concerned by Columbus’s sins as a colonizer. I don’t think those sins warrant defacing his statue or knocking it down. It is a reminder of an important part of our American history. This and other statues, including those of Confederate generals, are part of our history. Removing them would erase part of our history, hurtful especially to those who do not normally study that history, many of whom experience statues as an inert decoration that may grant them a passing pleasure. (Perhaps I fall into that category.) Removal would make their lives and mine shallower. They (we) are people, too.

Any statue’s removal should be undertaken only by its public – local, state or national – in a process of civilized democratic deliberation.

The reaction to statuary covers a range of feelings, from my largely aesthetic ones to understandable feelings of anger caused by the iconic reminder of, say, colonialism or slavery. But my guess is that those are rare. Feelings are pitched high these days, ginned up by events in the news, but I suspect that most people passing by a statue of Robert E. Lee in normal times would not feel anger or rage but, at worst, sadness or depression. They feel intuitively the symbolic meaning of the statue, and its implications for their lives.

In such feelings reside the importance of statuary to the individual experience of history. Nobody denies that history hurt some more than others, blacks and natives more than whites, but getting rid of the statues would rob these individuals of an important connection to their past and an incentive to desire or even, let us hope, to work for positive change. Nor would such removal do much to bring about the comity required to assist progress in resolving the ills that spring from our history.

Whatever the degree of anger over society’s continued hangover from slavery and Jim Crow, it cannot be denied that significant progress has been made toward the equality sought by our founders and emblazoned (for the first time in human history) in the documents of our foundation, and ratified by the blood of hundreds of thousands in a civil war fought to end slavery. That progress of a century and more was made in the company of more than 1,800 existing statues and memorials of Confederates or the Confederacy. Will their removal now add to the likelihood of further progress? Certainly not.

Rage has removed many statues in recent weeks. A large number of the statues under attack honored abolitonists, Union generals, President Lincoln and others dedicated to ending slavery, or who had nothing to do with slavery or, for that matter, with George Floyd. Indeed, rioting wrecked a unified belief held by all Americans that Floyd’s murder was a tragic wrong, and that justice should punish his killers. The riots destroyed that unity, that comity which might have been the result, and destroyed what progress might have arisen from peaceful marches seeking justice. The destruction of statues that have nothing to do with slavery has only made it harder to promote society’s effort to address police brutality and other injustices.

It has been noted that the incoherence apparent in the destruction of statues that have nothing to do with slavery reflects the ignorance represented, today, by the average college degree. I’d go a step further and say that the current iconoclasm is the first in history, or at least American history, where the intellectual capacity of those who attack statuary – mostly young, white and college-educated – is smaller than the intellectual capacity of those who don’t support that attack: the average American citizen.

Over the past few decades, the learning and the understanding conveyed by four years or more of higher education renders degree holders, in many fields of study, less capable of intelligent thought than those without degrees. In the field of architecture, for example, the public in its intuitive skepticism of modern architecture is more sophisticated than are the holders of almost all degrees from schools of architecture. This has been true for generations. It feels odd to say that the most educated members of society know less than the members of society generally, but that is the situation we face, with the attack on statues only the latest example of the broader decline in education and expertise. The wisdom of the masses now often bests that of the highly educated, but the masses lack power to bring fake expertise to heel.

But I don’t believe that this ignorance is the primary cause of the apparent incoherence of the attack on statues. Rather, not ignorance but calculation is behind that attack. The rioting and iconoclasm have been falsely predicated on the protests spawned by George Floyd’s murder. And the incoherence of the attacks is only apparent. The true cause is hatred for western civilization as manifested in America by its history, its institutions and its symbolic icons – including statues. The forces behind this destruction target the foundations of society itself. Statues are merely the easiest to find and attack, especially when timid police departments stand aside. Our difficulty grasping that reality is what causes this seeming incoherence. How convenient!

What better time for these forces to act than amid the re-election campaign of a president both widely hated and deeply admired, an opponent widely considered corrupt and incapacitated, global pandemic, economic meltdown, riots and the worst political scandal in American history? Current events have set up an unprecedented host of potential societal collisions. This has shaken confidence in the ability of our national institutions to guide and protect us. When we are at our weakest is when we are most likely to be attacked. Aside from the Civil War, our history has seen no period of greater vulnerability. (Let’s hope that our troubles will remain domestic.)

In spite of this, as the attack on our imperfect but striving society mounts, institutions public and private throughout the nation are surrendering their honor and dignity in mostly feigned apologies and mea-culpas. Their empty pledges are just words meant to deflect anger. Panic fanned by a complicit media fogs the sense of moderation and self-preservation that once prevailed among our most respected institutions. The reluctance to defend statues is just one instance of society’s refusal to defend its own honor.

The United States and its institutions have brought more progress to more people of all races, creeds and ethnicities – progress in health, in wealth, in safety, in freedom and political representation, just to name a few – than any previous society. Its founding documents erected high standards – equality and justice for all – and Americans have worked harder than the citizens of any other society to reach them. We’ve never claimed to be perfect, and yet hopeful immigrants continue to seek to live in our nation, warts and all.

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Columbus’s removal on June 25. (NBC-10)

The public stands foursquare against letting mobs topple statuary, and the protection of those statues can now serve as a rallying point in the defense against genuine enemies of our society, our nation, civilization itself – the good, the true and the beautiful.

Christopher Columbus should not have been removed by fiat of the city from Elmwood Avenue, but ought to have been allowed to remain so that its neighbors and the good people of Providence could have the opportunity to defend both him and the great civilization for which he stands – great for having proved its capacity, despite its flaws, to strive for the unprecedentedly just and equitable goals of our national foundation.

We in Providence still don’t know where the statue is now stored, or what fate will be administered by the committee that has apparently been formed to adjudicate its future. Its members are probably already suffering from the Stockholm syndrome. But maybe not. You never know. May history preserve Columbus from the deliberations of our self-appointed experts!

I would be even happier to see him moved from Elmwood Avenue to Federal Hill, former sanctuary for the city’s historic Italo population and today a mecca of restaurants. There I’d be able to enjoy looking at him more often. And there would be more police around to protect him, especially if he stood tall in DePasquale Square (al-fresco dining at its finest). Is Federal Hill up to the task? Heavy responsibility! It seems rattled by the uncertainties involved.

Be brave, Federal Hill! Stand strong, Providence! Viva America!

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R. Crumb & Klaus’ urbanism

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Klaus cartoon, “A Short (Architectural) History of the 20th C., after R. Crumb. (Klaustoon’s Blog)

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R. Crumb (Wikipedia)

Klaustoon’s Blog has been on my blog roll for years. His intricate sketches satirize the inside baseball among the modern architects, such as one he did on the Pritzker Prize of 2015, which I discussed in “Klaustoon pricks Pritzkers.” I may be wrong, but the enduring fight between modernism and classicism does not register in his drawing. Recently, however, Klaus drew a cartoon in homage to R. (Robert) Crumb, the famous underground cartoonist (“Fritz the Cat,” “Mr. Natural,” “Keep on Truckin’ “) and his celebrated cartoon strip, “A Short History of America,” which satirizes itself. Crumb’s panels depict, over a century, the transformation of a rural landscape into a suburban intersection. Klaus’s own cartoon, “A Short (Architectural) History of the 20th Century,” in tribute to (and including a copy of) Crumb’s, and drawn in a similar mode, focuses on urban architecture, depicting the transformation of traditional urbanism into modernist buildings.

I have been unable to find out the full name of Klaus, though he has been described as “a frustrated cartoonist that lives in an old castle in Europe.” And I have little to say about either Crumb’s or Klaus’s histories, except to note that Crumb did not like modern architecture. Here is a quotation of Crumb taken from Peter Poplaski’s 2005 Crumb Handbook:

As a kid growing up in the 1950s I became acutely aware of the changes taking place in American culture and I must say I didn’t much like it. I witnessed the debasement of architecture, and I didn’t much like it.

Here, from Terry Zwigoff’s 1995 bio, is another quote that feels right:

I think Crumb is, basically he’s the Bruegel of the last half of the twentieth century. I mean, there wasn’t a Bruegel of the first half but there is one of the last half, and that is Robert Crumb.” (Robert Hughes in Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, 1995).

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569) was among the first Dutch painters to work after religion was no longer the conventional subject of art. Bruegel specialized in rural landscapes not quite as hellish as those of Hieronymus Bosch, but hardly idyllic. In their histories of America, Crumb leans more toward Bruegel while Klaus leans more toward Bosch.

Both drawn histories are rich in detail, and it is fun to examine each frame closely. If you are of a certain age, both artists evoke delightful memories of unnoticed aspects of, in the case of Crumb’s, the suburban environment and, in the case of Klaus, an urban environment, with its succession of modernist buildings, most of which are lampoons of the work of identifiable modernist architects. Both Crumb and Klaus frame their histories as decade-by-decade battles between owners of land on either side of the road.

Both are cartoons by cartoonists, but both are also inspired historians and urbanologists. Both, it seems, did meticulous on-site research. Klaus could not, of course, avoid seeing it any more than the rest of us can. Crumb, in describing his research style to a reporter from TIME magazine, observes a phenomenon I’ve often described in my blog regarding a common defense mechanism – the ability to faze out so many of the ugly aspects of our built environment. Or in Crumb’s words, what we are “trained to ignore”:

Decades later, TIME magazine revealed that, in the late 1980s, Crumb persuaded a photographer friend to drive him through commercial streets and “bleak, just-built suburbs” of California and photograph “ordinary street corners” … “methodically us[ing] the camera to capture what our increasingly inattentive eyes have been trained to ignore.” For Crumb, [this] material has not been created to be visually pleasing, and you are not able to remember exactly what it looks like. But this is the world we live in.”

Not long after I saw Klaus’s own history (all of the frames of which are pictured separately in A Short (Architectural) History of the 20th Century in a larger size) in tribute to that of Crumb, he published a post analyzing Crumb’s “A Short History of America.” Each of its 12 frames are pictured separately in a size that may be easily examined, or resized even larger for even closer inspection.

By the way, in his two posts on Crumb’s history, Klaus repeatedly denigrates his own artistic talent next to that of Crumb. Please, I would beg to disagree. Klaus merely labors under the difficulty that the scenes he draws show more modern architecture, but their ugliness should not be attributed to his pen.

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R. Crumb’s “History of America [1850-1970],” published in 1979. (Klaustoon’s Blog)

Below are three panels from Crumb’s history, followed by two from Klaus’s:

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Posted in Architecture, Urbanism and planning | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Aborting Menokin’s legacy

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Menokin House as it will look when rebuilt with “deconstructed” elements. (Menokin Foundation)

Menokin House, near Warsaw, Va., was built in 1769 by Francis Lightfoot Lee, who received the plantation’s land as a wedding gift. He was the brother of Gen. Lightfoot Harry Lee of Revolutionary War fame, and the uncle of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The mansion is the only remaining unpreserved home of a Virginia signatory to the Declaration of Independence.

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Menokin in 1965. (Calder Loth)

If its “restoration” goes forward as planned, it will remain the only such unpreserved homestead. Its beauty and its legacy, however, will be condemned to oblivion.

In online discussions about my last post, “A preview of the E.O. era?,” a link to a website devoted to the Menokin “restoration” was offered to exemplify changes even worse than those proposed for the Federal Reserve Building, in Washington, D.C., whose beauty is at risk from an expansion using glass curtainwall.

Just look at the image on top of this post. That is what’s in store for Menokin. Can anything worse be imagined?

I have railed for decades against a shibboleth of the historical preservation movement that changes to historic buildings should not look like the original. The idea is supposedly to preserve the original’s “integrity” by differentiating the new from the old. It is a bogus idea – a job bank for modernist architects masquerading as a preservation principle. The goal of differentiation can be achieved more effectively with signage. For example: “House built in 1810; new wing added in 1965.”

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Original design with outbuildings. (Foundation)

An article on Menokin in the online journal designboom (no initial cap) only reinforced my objection to forced differentiation. It described in laughable terms the ongoing “Glass House Project,” as it is called, an effort to “reimagine” Menokin – largely a ruin today – as a center for the study of historic construction and preservation techniques.

The intention is unobjectionable, but under the auspices of the Menokin Foundation, which owns the mansion and grounds, the project has, it seems to me, gone off the rails. Instead of restoring the house to what it looked like in, say, the time of Francis Lighthorse Lee, they are, for no apparent reason, framing much of it in glass, including the corner that collapsed in the 1960s. That is a shame and a betrayal.

The designboom article and its description of the project invite ridicule. The magazine rejects the use of initial caps in proper names and at the beginning of sentences, as if such textual decapitation atones for the magazine’s – what? – its white designer privilege? Never mind that. Just read the description of the project by author Philip Stevens (oops, philip stevens):

the glass engineering, led by eckersley o’callaghan, blends with the 18th century stone, brick, and timber. while traditional restoration methods cover evidence of the human story that historic structures present, the transparent design seeks to emphasize the deconstructed architectural elements of the building and provide a literal window into the lives of those who built, lived, and worked at menokin.

The project’s glass “blends” with the “18th century stone, brick, and timber”? No it does not. Traditional restoration methods “cover” evidence of the building’s story? No they do not. Will the “deconstructed” house tell its human story better than a reconstructed one? Not likely. Will the glass “provide a literal window” into the lives of its occupants? Hardly. The whole article by Stevens is a farrago of falsehoods and inanities. After reading it, I was all revved up to heap justifiable abuse upon the project.

And yet the fact that it has been supported by Calder Loth, the eminence gris of Virginia’s architectural historians, gave me reason to pause.

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Menokin as ruin. (Foundation)

In the mid-1980s, he received a call from a woman who then owned Menokin, seeking his help in saving the house. “What led to her call,” writes Loth in a 2006 lecture to the Virginia Historical Society, “was a letter from the National Park Service informing her that the Park Service was considering removing Menokin’s National Historic Landmark status because of loss of integrity” arising from years of abandonment and deterioration.

Now the very plan to fix it up proposes a major loss of integrity.

Loth pitched in to help. But by 2006, he states, the Menokin Foundation’s goal “was not to restore the house and develop it as a conventional house museum. Stabilization and restoration of the ruin could take place not as a goal but as a process.” Techniques used in the process would not only be applied but exhibited as educational tools. It seems to me that as of 2006, the goals of education and restoration were not necessarily incompatible. Loth stated: “Panels can be removed as various original features are put back. I think this concept has a lot of merit.” He remains an honorary trustee of the foundation and a supporter of its Menokin project.

In an email to an online classical discussion group this morning, Loth wrote that the project “will not be an aesthetically beautiful work of architecture, but a special and, we hope, an intriguing educational facility.”

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Menokin under temporary shed.

Yet Loth in his 2006 lecture describes how much of the original Menokin House and stored interior woodwork remain. The record of its original design and construction is considered the most intact and extensive of its kind. The exterior could be rebuilt to its original design (Lee’s architect is unknown), using both original materials or historical fabrications as necessary. The interior could be rebuilt as well, and while almost all of the original furnishings are lost, they too can be replaced. Nor need the project sacrifice any of its educational elements. They can inhabit the rebuilt rooms or new or existing outbuildings, which should also be restored, if necessary, or designed to fit into the setting. Such a balance should be the task of the trustees and hired professionals.

There would be no need to abandon the goal of displaying how the house was originally built, how it was rebuilt in the 21st century, and its historic occupants – Lee, his family, his slaves and the natives of the Rappahannock tribe who were the original stewards of the surrounding landscape. These goals can and should be preserved by the foundation.

Construction on the project is at an early stage such that its design, by Machado & Silvetti Associates, of Boston, could be reconceived and recommenced. The result would be a house that shelters an educational center but looks like the colonial house of the Lee family both outside and, to some extent, inside. Such a plan would accomplish all of the project’s goals and attract a wider audience without sacrificing Menokin’s authenticity, beauty and legacy to the ego of architects and, perhaps, to some but surely not all of the trustees and staff.

Surely if the Menokin Foundation’s intention is to save the house and render it useful to the broader interests of history and historical preservation, they should be eager to be rid of the plan’s artificial architectural elements and instead honor Menokin’s place in American history. Or, in these days of rage and absurdity, an argument could be made to destroy Menokin in order to atone for its place in history. Unwittingly, that is already being done.

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Menokin plantation landscape. House and outbuildings, lower left. (Menokin Foundation)

Posted in Architecture, Preservation | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A preview of the E.O. era?

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View from Constitution Avenue of the Federal Reserve Building. (Fortas)

At the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which oversees the aesthetic evolution of the federal district in Washington, D.C., a battle over renovations to the Federal Reserve Building, 1937, designed by Paul Philippe Cret in a stripped classical style, hints at changes to come if a proposed executive order called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” is adopted.

The CFA has rarely hosted battles over the design of federal buildings because federal architecture has, by executive mandate, been almost entirely modernist since 1962. If approved by President Trump, the E.O. would switch federal design policy from styles dictated by an architectural elite toward styles preferred by a large majority of the public – classical, traditional and their derivatives. As a preview, the battle at the CFA has at last been joined in earnest because there are now three classicists on its seven-member board.

They are Justin Shubow, James McCrery and Duncan Stroik. Shubow, appointed in 2018, leads the National Civic Art Society, said to have inspired the E.O., and the latter two are well-respected classical architects. Together, they are showing how debate over federal architecture is likely to change. An article in The Architect’s Newspaper, “Renovation of Federal Reserve Board headquarters portends a battle over civic architecture,” by Deane Madsen, gives a taste of the conflict already under way.

Not yet officially proposed, the E.O. was leaked in February, but the Covid crisis has put on hold the vigorous initial discussion over its merits. That discussion may begin again soon as the nation’s capital reopens. The CFA’s deliberations over the Federal Reserve complex are reaching a head just as another issue related to the E.O. is coming to the fore – the appointment of a new chief architect at the General Services Administration, which oversees the design, construction and maintenance of all federal buildings.

If a new chief architect for the GSA is unsympathetic to the E.O., the course correction in federal architecture will be stillborn and will amount to a great hullaballoo over nothing. That will scuttle hope that other civic architecture and indeed architecture everywhere can begin to contemplate the possibility of being beautiful again. So the choice is vital.

Deane Madsen, the writer for AN, found it surprising that the new classicists should dare to rock the CFA boat as it headed steadily toward approval of the modernist proposal for the Federal Reserve Board headquarters, which is a complex of two buildings. The project’s design team, he wrote, “seemed taken aback by the new critical voices coming from the CFA.” He was clearly taken aback too, and was sufficiently rattled to let his journalistic-objectivity mask slip a bit by, for example, describing the three classicists as “clamoring for more marble.” Clamoring?

The minutes of the January meeting describe in detail the back and forth between the classicists and the modernists on the commission. The excerpts below suggest how difficult it was for its modernist members to respond to criticism they did not expect and may never have encountered at previous CFA meetings, or, for that matter, in their entire careers. The minutes reveal the modernists’ inability to respond coherently to the classicists’ pushback against modernist boilerplate, such as the need for all new architecture to be “of our time,” and that glass represents the “transparency” of the Federal Reserve. (No, that’s not supposed to be a joke!)

So please click on the link to the minutes and read the entire Eccles section, “C,” toward the middle of the document. After a lengthy description of the proposed renovations, debate among the seven CFA members begins a considerable way down in the section. It is all quite fascinating.

Here are a few tidbits from the January 20 minutes. Below them are a few illustrations from the proposal, and a link to the entire design package.

Mr. Stroik explained that he does not consider the Eccles Building [the Federal Reserve Building, named in 1982 for FDR’s Reserve Board chairman Marriner S. Eccles] to be concerned with expressing anything about the architect or any other individual; it is instead a building that expresses certain beliefs about Constitution Avenue, the Federal Reserve, and the United States. Any additions to it must respect this, and changes need to aesthetically defer to the existing architecture. He commented that although the presenters had said the right things, he does not think the proposed additions defer to the historic buildings as great marble edifices on an important street. He suggested that respecting the work of Cret requires trying to design as Cret would have, and it is not appropriate to design additions to these buildings in a contemporary mode; he reiterated that a more appropriate design approach, for buildings that form part of a gateway to the city and symbolizes important national meanings, is to defer to the existing buildings.

Commenting that he had expected tough questions, Mr. Henderer emphasized that the members of the design team are in complete agreement with Mr. Stroik but believe they are respecting Cret’s work and its context. He said the Federal Reserve is going through a transformation from a private office environment to an open, modern, collaborative workplace, and these buildings need to reflect that. Mr. Stroik questioned the assumption that the additions need to reflect this new interior environment on their exteriors, and he asked whether this is a more important consideration than respecting the aesthetic of our society’s civic architecture. Mr. Henderer responded that the two go together. Mr. Stroik disagreed; he said many historic buildings contain open office spaces, and this does not require a glass facade or a curtainwall. He maintained that nothing about the plan for the Eccles Building mandates a curtainwall that looks like an insertion; he said that the additions would look like an eyesore on a well-loved building, and that he believes the average person would see it that way. He asked if the designers want them to be considered eyesores; Mr. Henderer responded that he does not, nor does he consider the proposed design to be an eyesore. …

Mr. McCrery addressed the question of adding a new architectural vocabulary versus continuing an existing vocabulary. He noted that Cret had developed plans for the continuation of the Eccles Building, as architect Eero Saarinen had developed plans for the extension of his design for Dulles International Airport in Virginia. He said that when Dulles Airport needed to expand in recent years, these original plans of Saarinen were used without any editing, which he thinks was the perfect solution, because it would have been absurd to contrast the Dulles terminal with a completely different addition. Indicating the Cret rendering, he suggested doing the same thing with the Eccles Building, and asked if this had been considered. …

Mr. Shubow agreed with Mr. McCrery and Mr. Stroik that the Eccles Building is important as a design by Paul Cret and that new construction should be deferential toward it. He said he would support constructing the infill as shown in the historic Cret drawing. He commented on the particular desirability of the Federal Reserve headquarters appearing solid and permanent, as appropriate for a bank building, while glass can be interpreted as impermanent and fragile. He said there is a long history in American architecture of banks being designed to suggest fortresses or castles, conveying that they will stand for the ages. He said that the proposed infill does not appear deferential enough. He also questioned the viewpoint that the proposed additions are of our time, observing that they are reminiscent of Mies van der Rohe’s work from the mid-twentieth century, and he finds nothing wrong in principle with building something more similar to the original architectural style. He maintained that it is not the role of the Commission of Fine Arts to enforce the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for historic preservation, in whatever way they may be interpreted, because such standards change over time and may include a history of building additions that are in concert with what the architect may have originally intended or which may be in the original style. He said that if the Secretary’s Standards had been in place in the nineteenth century, the extensions to the U.S. Capitol would not have been designed as they were, but people would likely agree that those expansions are well designed.

Mr. Henderer offered two responses. First, he said, the goal of the current leadership of the Federal Reserve is that it should become a more transparent organization; second, the construction of the Cret addition as shown in the rendering would result in one large monolithic building, and Washington does not need any more such monolithic buildings. He said the proposed design better preserves Cret’s original massing.

Mr. McCrery said he agrees with the proposed addition’s setback, and the Cret infill design could be stepped back to the same plane; Mr. Henderer responded that this solution would nonetheless not provide the desired transparency. Mr. McCrery observed that glass is often reflective and not transparent. Mr. Henderer said that the team anticipates that at certain times of the day, such as early morning and late afternoon, the glass will be transparent and the historic facade will be visible through the glass curtainwall; he acknowledged that at midday or perhaps most of the day it will not be as transparent as desired.

The next meeting, held by videoconference on May 21, whose minutes are not yet public, saw the commission approve the design proposal for Eccles as amended (slightly) following the Jan. 22 meeting. It put off a vote on the East Building. The classicists, still in the minority, displayed their mettle in the January discussion, and may be joined next year not only by new members with similar aesthetic principles but by a new and more sensible ethos in federal building design, if the E.O. is signed and a sympathetic chief architect for the GSA is appointed. We shall see.

[Nikos Salingaros has a fascinating and in-depth review of the Federal Reserve project in the Federalist.]

Below are images of the proposal, compiled by the design project leader Fortus. The final two images are of the original Paul Philippe Cret side elevation and an unrealized alternative proposal by Cret to fill in space between the wings. Here is a link to the project’s submission of illustrations.

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The Constitution Avenue facade shows only hints of proposed modernist additions. (Fortus)

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View from 20th St. shows glassy side infill. (Forts)

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“Glass box” rear addition to complex’s East Building. (Fortus)

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Two views show 1937 original 20th Street side and unrealized side infill proposal by Cret. (CFA)

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Providence dodges a bullet

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Business owners, workers, and the excellent clean & safe crews of the Providence Downtown Improvement District clean up after Tuesday morning’s downtown riots. (WBUR)

Providence dodged a bullet last Tuesday morning.

That’s the good news. For all the horrifying videotape, rioters managed to do little real damage to downtown. Lots of glass was broken, boosting the local glass and plywood industries. There were a couple of small fires set to little effect. The bad news is that more bullets to be dodged may be on the way.

Tuesday afternoon, my heart in my throat, I crossed the College Street Bridge into downtown. To my joy, I found few busted plate glass windows and little graffiti on buildings along Westminster Street, the site of much looting and vandalism. Many windows had already been replaced, no doubt, and tags erased. No buildings were missing. Downtown looked pretty good, given the events mere hours earlier.

The next day, no rioting having ensued the night before, downtown looked far worse. I drove in and was appalled to find that many buildings, uninjured by looters, had been sheathed in anticipatory plywood, with pre-emptive “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice No Peace” slogans painted on the plywood by business owners eager to propitiate the mob. One can hardly blame them.

The plywood sheeting went up because protesters were expected downtown for a rally on Friday, starting at Kennedy Plaza and marching up Francis Street to the State House. Organizers promised it would be peaceful, but even they could not assure it would not degenerate into a “mostly peaceful” event. And shop owners were not willing to gamble that local police would be any more effective than on Tuesday morning, when they appeared to perform with max timidity imposed from above. So up with the plywood.

The rally, which attracted 7,000 marchers,* turned out to be entirely peaceful (so far as I’ve heard). The weekend saw no renewed rioting or looting. But the media were full of reports from around the country that demands for “change” were beginning to focus on the idea of eliminating or defunding police departments. City councils in Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles and other places were falling in line all weekend long.

And in Providence? Crickets.

Governor Raimondo emerged late Friday evening to face protesters crying “We want Gina” and was greeted with chants to “defund the police,” but she did not respond. Good for her.

I haven’t seen any reporters trying to dig up the opinions of local pols on this topic. Well, why not? I suspect our enterprising journalists understand that a Raimondo or an Elorza (governor and mayor) can’t win by taking a stand either way. If they oppose axing the Providence Police Department they’ll get pummeled by the “woke” elite. Just get a load of poor young Jacob Frey’s humiliating perp walk after the supposedly “woke” Minneapolis mayor was booed by protesters for coming out against axing the MPD. But if they come out for axing the PPD, they’ll get pummeled by voters, followed, if such a proposal advances, by a mass exodus of what’s left of the city’s tax base.

So we’ll see if Providence is able to dodge this next bullet coming along. Local news reported all Wednesday that the rioters’ goals included burning down the State House and Providence Place. In their dreams! I can only wonder what kind of news sources gave rise to these journalistic scoops.

Frankly, the State House and Providence Place will survive. Providence is still too beautiful to sacrifice in the name of a false narrative. But there’s a whole lot of stupidity out there these days, so you can never tell.

*As estimated by the State Police; the organizers said 10,000, the media said tens of thousands.

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Behold modernist Scrabble

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The introductory screen at Scrabble GO, the replacement for the Scrabble app. (Hasbro)

Amidst pandemic lockdown, the game of Scrabble is among the saviors of sanity. It is so in our family. I taught Scrabble to my wife, Victoria, and created a monster. I rarely play her anymore so she plays her mother, who is imprisoned in assisted living. To listen to the two of them chat by telephone during a game, Dr. Somlo seems to score a bingo (50 bonus points for using all seven of your tiles) every three turns. Yet my pupil frequently wins. They love Scrabble. They play Scrabble every day. I thank God for Scrabble.

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The old Scrabble board. (Hasbro)

But now the computer app of Scrabble, which enables them to play digitally over vast distances, is being discontinued and replaced with a “new and improved” version, Scrabble GO, which, according to a letter sent to users on March 12, takes over at midnight tonight.

Josh Bernoff, a writer in Arlington, Mass., has written a cri de coeur urging Hasbro (its owner, based in Pawtucket, R.I.) not to kill the Scrabble app. He recognizes that Scrabble is even more important in what has officially come to be called “these times.” He adds that “[w]hen you are 85 years old and the authorities are telling you to stay shut up in your house, Scrabble is more than a diversion. It is an essential coping tool.” My dear mother-in-law is 86. Why must she put up with Scrabble Go, or make do with lesser substitutes such as Words With Friends?

Bernoff tried Scrabble GO and here is how he describes it:

It is an obscenity, characterized by childish interactions, lurid colors, nagging reminders to invite your friends to play, and some sort of incentive system based on (gag) jewels you can earn.

In short, it’s stupid, ugly, tedious, infantile, bothersome, doomed to failure, and thus it perfectly reflects how modern culture, in the name of “upgrade,” or, more broadly, “progress,” insists upon the right to make everything worse, and does so without the slightest indication of shame. It is just like modern architecture: It cannot live side by side with traditional, classical Scrabble because soon there would be nobody who still wants to play the modernist Scrabble GO, and Hasbro obviously knows it. The Scrabble GO target market is already too addicted to more garish computer games that don’t require the ability to spell. This is why the old Scrabble app, rather than serving as an alternative to GO, will depart this world at 11:59 tonight.

Old Scrabble is, after all, as Bernoff writes:

like the voice of Alex Trebek — calm, authoritative, and intelligent, reassuring us that the world remains sane and that we can take comfort in something trivial but engaging. We need this now.

Yes, we do. Since I no longer play Scrabble as often as I once did, I have more time to discover and expose parallels between modern architecture and other really bad stuff. Hence this post. To channel Steve Bass, may Scrabble GO go the way of New Coke.

(Here’s more detail on the Scrabble GO crisis in a follow-up post by Bernoff. He links to a petition to save the old Scrabble app, called EA Scrabble.)

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Christo, homage to a life

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“Wrapped Reichstag” (1995), by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. (Wolfgang Volz/Christo)

The artist Christo has died. One must not, they say, speak ill of the dead. I am not speaking ill of the dead man but of his art. Those who bruise easily may stop reading here, but Christo’s death will rob me of opportunities to express my thoughts about his art, until a book is written about him or his work is honored in a museum exhibit. How they will fit it in I have no idea.

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“The Gates,” 2005. (haberarts.com)

The most iconic of those works was the 1995 draping in shiny fabric of the Reichstag, Germany’s historic parliament building in Berlin, which shortly after would suffer the indignity of a new dome by British modernist architect Norman Foster. The “installation,” as Christo’s art is denominated, was temporary, the only saving grace of his collection. This year he had planned to wrap up the Arc de Triomphe, a work still expected to reach completion by year’s end in spite of his death (if not necessarily the Covid crisis). He will no doubt go down in art history as the creator of “The Gates,” in New York’s Central Park – not because this was his best work, far from it, although it was among his least intrusive, and there is much to applaud in that. Rather, “The Gates” was the subject of a brilliant comic bit by Stephen Colbert on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show in 2005, maybe the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.

Here is a revealing quotation of Christo, taken from today’s obituary by the Associated Press:

In a 2018 interview with The Art Newspaper, Christo spoke about his signature wrapping aesthetic. In the instance of the Reichstag, he said, covering it with fabric made the Victorian sculptures, ornament and decoration disappear and, thus, highlighted, “The principal proportion of architecture.” [Perhaps the AP meant to write “the principle of proportion in architecture.]

“But, like classical sculpture, all our wrapped projects are not solid buildings; they are moving with the wind, they are breathing,” he said. “The fabric is very sensual and inviting; it’s like a skin.”

“Christo lived his life to the fullest, not only dreaming up what seemed impossible but realizing it,” said a press release announcing Christo’s death, which occurred of natural causes in New York City, where he had lived since 1964. New York’s art world rubbed off on him bigtime. His art had nothing to say except what observers thought about it, or infatuated art critics wrote about it. Christo’s career and his oeuvre was Tom Wolfe’s book The Painted Word writ large. Published in 1975, it was about how America’s art world had reached a point where art was secondary to what critics wrote of it, which was mostly ridiculous, and hence largely and accurately descriptive. That the silly career of Christo was massively successful says much more about the art world than about the art of Christo, who was born in Bulgaria. Is it Bulgaria or Romania whose capital city was said to be a stage set of grandeur masking decay? Christo’s art was exactly the reverse.

It pains me to say that while Christo was a Bulgarian, his art was American to the core. That is a criticism less of Christo than of American culture. Just about all American art and culture these days is designed to be endured in the echo chamber of the nation’s critical community, with the expectation that connoisseurs – the intelligent public having lost interest in art long ago – will be impressed not by the art itself but by the number of tweets and retweets it garners on Twitter. If you look at most modern art objectively, that makes sense. (Not the art but its dependence on the words of others.)

The most interesting thing about Christo was his wife and artistic partner, Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon, who was born on the same day, June 13, in the same year, 1935, as her husband, Christo Vladimirov Javacheff. She told the London Telegraph that “[o]ur art has absolutely no purpose, except to be a work of art. We do not give messages.” She said they took separate flights so that their work would continue if one of the planes were to crash. She died of a brain aneurysm in 2009, having enjoyed 15 years of credit as co-conspirator with her husband, who took sole credit for their work between 1961 and 1994, when he was finally shamed into sharing the blame.

There is an art to the taking of credit at which Christo truly did excel. RIP.

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The Reichstag without Christo’s fabric cloak but with Norman Foster’s dome. (Wikipedia)

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Trad and not so trad, cont.

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The Macedonian Museum of Archaeology, in Skopje, is an example of “bad trad.”

In light of my recent review of Beauty Memory Unity (2019), by Steve Bass, I offer a long post from 2017 that urges classicists to criticize bad trad more gently if they seek a classical revival. Bass describes strict methodologies for working with proportion to create beauty, but admits that great architects of the past may have used their intuitions instead. Today’s classicists who use more intuitive, less canonical methodologies should not be castigated by those who do use canonical methodologies. The same should apply to the rules of classicism generally, for the reasons described in the Dec. 17, 2017, post, “Trad and not so trad, cont.,” below.

I hasten to add that classicism that follows canonical principles, or innovates with them intelligently, is more likely to produce beauty than winging it. Still, in an era when establishment architecture seeks to crush classicism, and has no desire to create beauty, the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.

***

Classicism over thousands of years has developed an architectural language that modernism has not even sought to construct. A language would suggest a reliance on precedent. Among those who have criticized my admiration for Stan Weiss’s interior decor, Eric Daum puts it well. He writes that the decor “deletes adverbs, denies noun/verb agreement, and it doesn’t understand the rudiments of punctuation.”

Perhaps so. An antiques dealer and hotel developer, Weiss calls his ornament – yes, bought from catalogues and assembled according to his own design – a “classical fantasy,” comparable to Sarasata’s Carmen Fantasy for Violin. Maybe there is too much antique furniture in Weiss’s basic conception. Elements of his rooms strike me as Piranesian. That surely overstates the case, but the notion that it is “ugly” or “gives [one commenter] a stomach-ache” seems more like virtue signalling than genuine critical analysis.

But the objections are passionate and eloquent, and, I think, come from the heart. It is a reaction to be expected from anyone who has labored first to learn and then to apply the rules of classicism, and thus demands respect.

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One commenter, Nancy Thomas, a publicist who, however sensible, is not an expert in architecture, wrote:

All I know is my eyes dance at [Weiss’s embellishments], and if I could print a set of note cards with the artwork in that first image, I would do so. … What fun … how Classical!

My focus as a writer on architecture is the style wars between modern and traditional architecture. My reading in the principles and techniques of classicism is not deep, not at all. I don’t need a deep understanding to think and write about how a public square of classical design is superior to a public square squelched by modernism. I do understand the idea of classicism as a language. The importance of high standards in classical work is mother’s milk to me. However, after being assaulted on Pratt Street by the exterior of the Weiss House, I was very much taken aback by the interior. It was like stepping from an icy shower into a hot bath where nymphs bearing towels waited to dry me off in front of a fireplace. (These days I suppose they could be accused of harassing me!) At any rate, beauty is what my eyes beheld.

The honesty of my reaction is, I think, just as pure and passionate – as valid if not as well tutored – as the reaction against it.

Commenter “Anonymous” (or “Soundslike” in his original comment) writes:

The more that well-meaning traditionalists defend bad-trad architecture that treats tradition as just another shallow stylistic grab-bag, the less of a real argument we have against the cruelties and follies of Modernist architecture. … We have so much more than “style” going for us, but not if we accept anything with doodads and gewgaws applied to speak for “tradition.”

That’s all very well, entirely unobjectionable and perfectly valid so far as it goes. But the future of classical architecture does not rest entirely on the virtuosity with which classicists apply the principles. The future of classical architecture depends on whether classicists can leverage the public’s taste for traditional design into a movement away from modern architecture and back toward architecture people love.

So, what’s that famous line? “Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

That is a very practical piece of advice, and it is applicable here. “Good trad” and “bad trad” are not so easily divisible. There is a scale between bad and good. At the bad end of the scale is architecture that deserves every iota of the classicists’ disdain. But as you move up the scale from the truly bad to the almost good, the advisability of castigating the almost good as if it were truly bad diminishes. Educated architects may not be emotionally capable of making this distinction, but members of the general public are, and do so instinctively, with a degree of sense born of continuous experience.

Seth Weine writes in his comment that “it is not true that bad (or even poor) classicism is better than no classicism at all.” Some classicists believe that bad trad is a greater enemy to the classical revival than modern architecture. Again, however understandable such a sentiment may be among experts, if taken seriously it virtually forecloses the possibility of a classical revival. My reply to his comment was:

Disagree strongly, Seth. Most people can tell the difference only to some degree. They may know enough to disdain the very bad, dumbed down “classicism” of a high-end CVS but far less so that of an interior like that of Weiss’s house. The latter cannot hurt the reputation of classicism anywhere near the way the former can. Therefore it serves to enhance classicism’s rep in light of most of what the public sees in its built environment. It baffles me that so many classicists cannot appreciate this. Experts might understandably see it differently, and obviously high standards are the best standards, but we design and build for clients and the public, not the experts.

The producers of places like Weiss’s interior – or, say, Providence Place mall, completed in 1999, or the neo-Georgian buildings on the edges of the Gaebe Common (except for its Triangolo Gate, which is high classicism) at Johnson & Wales University, or the Westin Hotel and its addition, or at least two of the several new hotels scheduled for construction, to take several examples from Providence – should be praised for their evident desire to produce buildings that the public will at least like.

The best examples can be praised with some brio, while lesser examples can be praised with some reserve. Even if their designers have no desire to please the public at all and have built traditional buildings for some other reason, they should be given the benefit of the doubt and praised. It may be safe to criticize the baddest of bad trad, but it should be kept in mind that what they all need most is education, not condemnation.

What an admirable goal to create friends, not enemies! It is above my pay grade to figure out how to structure a program to bring design education to the CVS design team, the facilities departments of universities, the staff of Home Depot, the architects employed by the design/build firms that build so many bland buildings today, etc. Suffice it to say, architecture schools are not required to enroll only kids, and churches are not the only institutions that could benefit by sending out missionaries.

“Anonymous” offers a useful reminder that classical education was purged from architecture schools by the modernists, leaving generations of designers without the ability to perform some of the basic tasks of architecture:

[I]f you look at buildings built before Modernism’s coup, in all of them – from the simplest 1770s house on Transit Street to the most ornate 1910s mansion on College Hill to the 1890s Fox Point workforce housing to the City Hall to the Deco storefronts downtown – you see they achieve incredible variety, but that none of them makes any of the mistakes of proportion, tectonic clarity, hierarchy, etc. that are rampant in the house you’ve extolled.

I wrote a fun post a year ago, “Skopje’s classical ambition,” on the topic of bad trad. The post chuckles at an article that quotes, with sympathy, a handful of [Skopje] modernists whose work is being shunted aside. They condemn the quality of the classicism that is replacing it. One of them even blubbered that they didn’t seek his consent to change his building. Consent!? Did he ask consent from the owners whose buildings he demolished back in the 1960s? Hardly likely! Not with Josip Braz Tito in charge!

But I digress. Here is one point from that post that applies in spades:

I lack the credentials to judge any attempt to reconnect Macedonia with its history. But Yugoslavia’s modernists benefited from modern architecture’s global effort to snuff out classical education and craftsmanship. It ill behooves them now to complain that the new classicism in Skopje is insufficiently canonical. Their hypocrisy beggars the imagination.

Classicists’ condemnation of less than canonical classicism may be unwise, but at least it’s not hypocritical!

The reputation of classicism depends only partially on how well particular buildings of classical inspiration are designed. The classical revival depends only in part on the number of classicists graduating from architecture school (few but growing). Those are both very important, and a classical revival will not happen without advances on both fronts. But if the classical revival must await a takeover of modernist education by classicist education, it will wait until doomsday. Unless the market intervenes.

For that to happen, the public must see classical and traditional architecture being built in their cities and towns. Without that, the public will continue to believe that beautiful buildings are something from the past that cannot be expected today, for various untrue reasons, such as their supposedly high expense or their supposed lack of propriety in modern times.

The public, as I suggested to Seth Weine, has no scholarly capacity to judge the canonical qualities of new classical architecture, any more than I did when I entered the Weiss House. At this point, the vast bulk of new classical architecture is likely to fall more or less beneath the level of the canonical. And a lot of it will be good enough to please the eye of most of the public. Classicism, as a profession, should take advantage of this. If it does not, if even the best of bad trad is castigated not just by the modernists but by the classicists as well, the public will continue to feel pressure to doubt its instinctive preference for traditional over modernist buildings.

A tolerance [among classicists] for some degree of bad trad is key to improving the work of its designers, and to strengthening the public’s confidence in its own instincts. Tolerance of bad trad is not incompatible with the highest standards of classical architecture. Both goods can be sought at the same time, and both can be mutually beneficial to the goal of a classical revival. No classical revival will survive if classicists cannot refrain from making enemies of their allies – those who are willing, wanting, waiting to make beautiful buildings, but who need to be taught, not disdained.

In a democracy, public taste should carry weight, but it never will until classicists find a more sophisticated way to address the making – and promotion – of classical architecture at every level. I hope my visit to Stan Weiss’s crib has helped to move that conversation forward.

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