Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society and a leading proponent of classical architecture, is also a leading opponent of modern architecture. He and his organization, along with the Eisenhower family, have led the fight against Frank Gehry’s design for a memorial to Ike. The NCAS overlaps in its mission with the mission of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, whose New England chapter has invited Shubow to speak at its Bulfinch Awards ceremony at 1 p.m. in the Algonquin Club on Saturday, April 23.
In his lecture, Shubow is expected to address the broader significance, with an eye to his opposition to the Gehry Ike, of architecture and its influence on national character. Whereas modern architecture reflects the bureaucratic state and its disregard for the individual, classical architecture reflects the grandeur of a national polity that exalts the free individual as the apotheosis of the rule of law. I would be surprised if Shubow does not take that line of thinking. As Gehry might say, it’s just warmed-over Jefferson.
The fight against the Gehry memorial has almost been won. Congress has refused to pass construction funding for three straight years. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which chose Gehry in a dubious competition process, has had to fall back on retired Sen. Bob Dole, of Kansas, to raise the funds privately. Maybe he will have more success than the commission by itself. Its fundraising campaign in recent years raised less than it cost to hire the firm to raise funds. It seems that while the commission still has enough money to maintain offices and pay staff, the memorial itself is on life support.
That’s the latest, and I hope Shubow will give us some more insider tidbits. But of even more interest is whether he will map out a strategy to return classical architecture to its former authority, not only as the architecture Jefferson chose to represent the ideals of democracy, but as the default architecture for the civic realm in the nation’s capital and throughout the country. It is the architecture that the public prefers, and in a democracy that is (or should be) no small beer.
Shubow and his organization have been sneered at by conventional architecture critics from Paul Goldberger on down. He wears this disdain as a feather in his cap, and rightly so. He has spoken before Congress about how Washington should re-embrace classicism, and I expect his lecture will be equally thoughtful and inspiring.
Reservations for the lecture can be made here. Reservations for the gala to celebrate the 2016 Bulfinch Awards laureates, to be held at the Harvard Club just up Commonwealth Avenue from the Algonquin Club, starting at 6 p.m. that evening, can be made here.