Architect Tim Andersen sends an essay, “Next Greek Revival: The Republic Could Rise Again,” that reminds us on this Election Day of the entwining tenets of architecture and democracy. Architecture creates the stage for democracy. Democracy creates a people wise enough to embrace and maintain civilization. Or one would like to think.
“How inspiring it would be today,” writes Andersen, “to see a new Greek Revival meeting house, library or school. … It would be a daily reminder for citizens to rise up and take responsibility for their government.”
Here’s more: “Media scholar Ben Bagdikian observed that ‘fundamental deception damages the public’s ability to maintain a rational view of the world. Once a basic untruth is rooted, it blurs a society’s perception of reality and, consequently, the intelligence with which it reacts to events.”
Andersen’s essay eventually moves from architecture to politics. His slant is, you might say, nonpartisan, but not the vague “middle-of-the-road” milksop politics so popular with many today who fear the need to choose. Toward the end of his essay, Anderson returns to architecture as a reflection of the essential civility of a functioning democracy. “Architecture,” he writes, “mirrors society and represents its aspirations. Historic building traditions embody a society’s long-held meanings and beliefs. Culture in this sense is literally constructed.”
The emphasis on that last word is mine. I see a critique of modern architecture implicit in Tim Andersen’s essay, embedded in its critique of modern American society. Without really being mentioned, it nevertheless percolates quietly throughout. The essay is a clarion call that merits reading on this of all days.