Independence architecture

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The classicism of the Jefferson Memorial, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, a design beloved of Jefferson, is by John Russell Pope and was dedicated in 1943, during the Second World War. The monument’s classicism was pecked at by modernist ducks – among them William Hudnut, head of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Hudnut declared that “this monument, when completed, will embody so grotesque a presentation of Jefferson’s character as to make him, if such a thing is possible, forever ridiculous.” In spite of such claptrap, which purposely overlooked Jefferson’s role in setting classicism as the young nation’s design template, Pope’s memorial was built after FDR overrode objections by the Fine Arts Commission, which never voted to approve it.

(Thanks to Erik Bootsma for correcting an earlier version that said the design was approved by the commission.)

Pomp, which embodies what critics saw in the design’s classicism, betrays a profound but typical misunderstanding. If anything, circumstance is the key word, and classicism fits itself to a building’s purpose of representing its subject’s character and accomplishments with modesty, simplicity and elegance – an ethos that modernism cannot abide.

In the photo above, the Jefferson Memorial is observed from the National World War II Memorial. The photo below was shot moments later.

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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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2 Responses to Independence architecture

  1. Anonymous says:

    Pope’s one flaw was not to include an oculus which would have kept to out of the shadows. Fitting for a child of the enlightenment.

    Like

  2. Erik Bootsma says:

    Curiously Fine Arts commission actually never approved the design. In fact it opposed it but FDR and Congress ignored them anyway.

    Like

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