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The National Mall 1/20/09

The National Mall 1/20/09

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.”

 

 

Click to Zoom

Click to Zoom

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Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Credit: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

 

 

Economy got you down?

 

Well quit your bitching and be more like Seattle-architect John Morefield.

 

Morefield (pictured above) has fallen victim to crap economy twice already.  He has been laid of from two separate firms in his young career but he took his shit-luck and got creative.  He went down to the Pike Place Market and set up a booth selling architecture advice for a nickel like a kid with a lemonade stand.  For 5-cents you can get at least a few minutes of architectural know-how.  He even designed a tree house for a young “client.”  You also get Morefield’s card and contact information.  It’s a clever plan to bring business his way in the future when people can afford more than a nickel-architect.  I have to say I love this guy; he’s got moxie.  You can read more about him in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which is, appropriately enough, also a victim of the awful financial climate.

For those of you who are less enterprising than Mr. Morefield, you might want to try and mooch some money off the man.  Architectural record has responded to the layoffs and work shortages plaguing the industry by posting a list of architectural grants.  Is this a desperate attempt to keep broke archies in the chips and buying their overpriced magazine? Probably.  In any event some of the grants they’ve noted are quite lucrative.  Your interest in architecture could help you weather the storm.

The AIA thinks architecture could be the savior for the entire nation.  They’ve countered Washington’s bailouts with their own plan for stimulus*.   Their Rebuild and Renew program calls for 100’s of billions to be spent on infrastructure and other building projects.  It calls for $12 billion to create competitive grade schools (and competent architects?), a $30-billion green make over for the nation and even more on transit.  There is even a tax-relief element to help out the firms doing their proposed work.  The program even offers a relatively small pittance ($100-million or so) toward historic preservation.  Specifically, they demand a bailout of the terminally-under-funded Save America’s Treasures program and grants for Tribal and State Historic Preservation Offices. I think this is a well-timed, brilliant idea.

When businesses start failing, wrecking-balls stop razing.  By freezing up competition from mass development, the financial crisis could be a boon for the not-for-profit world of preservation.  Hopefully the new Obama administration and congress will heed the call of the AIA’s architectural New Deal.  If they do we could see a massive expansion of preservation activities and renewed interest in our nation’s architectural heritage.  It took the unchecked construction of a boom-time in the 1960’s to initially spark government action to protect the built environment.  Maybe with the entropy of a near-depression they’ll be spurred to see that work through.

While the financial holocaust may be good for preservationists it is certainly terrible for everyone else.  We’re all going to have to cowboy-up like John Morefield and get creative to make it through to the end of this.   Hopefully when things finally do improve, when Morefield gets a new job and there is money to be made in building once again, we’ll also see the fruits of our protected, restored and rehabilitated architectural heritage.

*I cannot say the word stimulus without giggling.

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I was browsing Barack Obama’s beautifully designed website reading the mythologizing account of Joe Biden’s life story when I noticed an oddly titled video over in the corner.  It said Barns for Obama.

This is the first architectural endorsement I have seen in the campaign.

Anyway, just a little something to tide the blog over until I am fnished with the research project I am currently working on.  In the spirit of equal time perhaps I should do a rundown of the McCain’s six houses… or is it nine?

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flickr/photos/nedward.org

Credit: flickr/photos/nedward.org

Bored with razing 19th century buildings Swedish retailer Ikea has taken to ruining modern masterpieces.

Who would have thought that a touchy-feely Swedish company would do so much cultural damage?  Come on guys you destroyed half of Marcel Breuer’s Pirelli Building isn’t that enough?  Do you have to tart up its lonely carcass with giant advertisements?

The the sleek USS Arizona Memorial and the sunken battle-grave it commemorates will soon have a shiny new visitors center.

I have visited the memorial and can attest to the cramped conditions at the visitors center and that it is visibly sinking into the ground.  The memorial and the sailors it honors deserve better.  I have only seen one drawing of the planned building.  It looks vaguely Polynesian and contemporary but kind of themey.  Lets hope it’s more Ossipoff than Disneyland

flickr/photos/Z-everson

Credit: flickr/photos/Z-everson

It’s a good time to be an old house.  According to the National Trust’s blog, the terrible economy means fewer tear downs and as a bonus the Congress’ latest housing bill bolsters preservation incentives.

It’s nothing to get too excited about.  The crappy economy also means fewer people have the money to dump into maintaining old buildings.  The NTHP blogger emphasizes that the cold housing market could provide the space and time communities need to form preservation plans though.

Looking for the latest exhibition on American architecture?  Well, pack your Urdu dictionary because you’re headed to Islamabad!

The photographic exhibition was put on by the US Embassy in Pakistan and ranges from ‘traditional’ architecture to the works of Gehry and Meier.  While you’re there you might as well soak up some of the new city’s architectural gems.  I suggest starting with Faisal Mosque.  I have always thought it looked like a Muslim version of the USAF Academy Chapel.

flickr/photos/*__*

Credit: flickr/photos/*__*

flickr/photos/aur2899

Credit: flickr/photos/aur2899

Do you see it? Think I am crazy?  Post a comment!

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