Kunstler’s City Beautiful

The World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893. (pinterest.com)

The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893. (pinterest.com)

James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere and The World Made by Hand, and coiner of the word “crudscape,” knows all too well what we as a civilization have wrought since we won World War II. In many ways, not just the Ugly American but the Ugly America. “Eyesore of the Month” is a must for every reader. Jim’s blog is a running, leaping, yodeling castigation of what’s wrong with our age, but for Orion Magazine he has has penned a graceful essay on the City Beautiful Movement, really the City Beautiful Moment – or What It Could Have Been Like in our world but for …

The Modern Movement, which has destroyed much of it and replaced it with a civitas that not only calls for a B-29 flyover but resembles the result. It has lasted now more than three times as long as the City Beautiful Movement. This video produced by Orion, City Beautiful, is a sweet reflection on that moment – one that could someday return in all its glory if, as Jim suggests, modernism is in the process of fading from the scene. Would that it could fade as fast as the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 did! Talk about a throwaway society! There was a big fire, but the White City, as it was called, was made, unbelievably – almost every Beaux Arts inch of it – of papier maché and would have come down anyway. It was a fair, after bloody all, as temporary as the ones that move on down the road after a week of thrills.

Take a look. These are three beautiful decades, lovingly photographed and with a memorable Kunstler soundtrack that wraps gently around the video, picking up on his Orion essay. This is rare Kunstler, a Kunstler in love. “It was really possible a century ago to imagine a Golden Age burgeoning.”

In fact, visit Orion, for the series of which this beautiful video is a part. A tip of the hat to John Massengale for posting this fine material to the TradArch list.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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