We have a new president. As a person of mixed-race today quite special for me, as it was for most Americans, regardless of their ethnic-identity. There is not a lot for me to to add to the chatter about our new Commander-in-Chief. I am hardly qualified to be a political pundit so I won’t even try. As I watched the oath and parade I was taken, of course, by the architecture. Everything was designed to be grand and looked so beautiful on TV. I have never been impressed with Washington in person. Though, there are exceptions.
The National Building Museum is appropriately, exquisite. Its exterior is playful and pretty. Its interior is a marvel of light and air. It was initially designed as the pension office for Civil War veterans and, as such, originally had short ramp-like steps. This feature made it , perhaps the first building designed for this disabled in the country. That is something beautiful in its own right. It is not the rule unfortunately.
Most of the city and its monuments, although grand, are unexpectedly dingy in person and downright gaudy in design. But, they photograph majestically and that is how we know them. Washington, like Los Angles, the other city we all know from pictures, is a giant stage. Its buildings are the set-pieces of our republic and we know them by the individual moments in history with which they cooresepond. Perhaps that is why they look so dull in-person. The knock-off classical temple that houses Lincoln could never compete with the lyrical beauty of the great speech delivered in front of it.
The true architectural grandeur of the city comes when it is taken on as a whole. The image to the right is from the inauguration this morning. It is with photos like these, with the entire mall and a sea of citizens within, that we understand that the city truly lives up to L’Enfant’s design “for aggrandizement and embellishment . . . at any period however remote.”