Over half a century ago, Henry Hope Reed, who died in May at age 97, launched a permanent campaign to restore the classical tradition to its rightful primacy in American public art and architecture. The Golden City (1959) provided the polemical and pedagogical foundation for this campaign, presenting incisive photographic comparisons of the nation’s rich heritage of traditional buildings and other public embellishments with their threadbare modernist counterparts. Flagpoles and lampposts were not overlooked.
The book’s title might ring a little sentimental to our irony-saturated ears. It was likely inspired by the Wordsworth sonnet “Composed upon Westminster Bridge”:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smoke- less air.
Wordsworth may have been one of his favorite poets, but Reed was no Romantic. He was a rigorous formalist whose aesthetic outlook was shaped by the great works of imperial Rome, the Italian Renaissance, the Paris of the Louis, and the American metropolis of the turn of the last century. He always insisted that “man is a decorating animal.” And he meant by nature, not by temporary historical happenstance. In the midst of an iconoclastic juggernaut, he sought to redeem the art of architecture from a functionalism better suited to the airplane, diesel locomotive, or grain silo. His humanism was anthropologically sound.
Reed believed that the arts of form should play a formative role in the progress of civilization, shaping an ideal background that would enrich everyday experience. Contemporary endeavors should emulate the great works of the past. Even before the dawn of the 20th century, however, elite opinion had begun to take a very different view: Architecture, especially, was now regarded as the byproduct of particular historical circumstances. It was incumbent on creative “genius” in the guise of a Mies van der Rohe or Le Corbusier to divine the essence or “will” of a given epoch, along with a new vessel of forms to give it expression.
It was also Reed’s countercultural conviction that, as the United States got richer and richer in the postwar period, it was natural to expect the quality of its public architecture—its courthouses, concert halls, museums, office buildings, and hotels—to get better and better. The opposite, in fact, transpired, as “the new world-order of the machine” (as Walter Gropius called it) found expression in starkly abstract and generally repellent architectural forms. Writing in Esquire in 1963, Norman Mailer lamented the advent of a “totalitarian architecture” that “destroys the past,” leaving its victimized public “isolated in the empty landscapes of psychosis.” The United States thus became the first nation in the history of civilization to rise to world preeminence while its public realm deteriorated precipitously—from the Orwellian precincts of our “re-developed” core cities to the meandering postwar suburbs with their modernist bubble-diagram zoning.
A lifelong New Yorker, Reed became fascinated with the nation’s urban environment around the time of his graduation from Harvard in 1938. He took to making road trips to scout out cities and towns with another Harvard man, Wayne Andrews, who would become an architecture historian at Case Western Reserve. Because a hearing impairment rendered him ineligible for military service, Reed found himself working as a reporter in Omaha during World War II. This allowed him to explore the Midwestern cityscape, including many an old river town along the Mississippi or the Missouri.
After the war, Reed’s vocational itinerary led him to Paris and the École du Louvre, where he studied the decorative arts, and from there to Yale, where an extraordinarily gifted urban planning professor, Christopher Tunnard, took him on as an instructor and research assistant. The Canadian-born Tunnard had enjoyed considerable success as a pathbreaking modernist landscape architect in England before migrating to the United States, where he began to entertain serious doubts about the flat, blank façades and simplistic planning the new orthodoxy was inflicting on American communities.
A commentator on CNN dubbed Pope Francis "the hope and change pope" earlier today:
"He hasn't actually done much in the way of real policy changes of initiatives, and he certainly is the hope and change pope, but he's at the head of a body, the Vatican, that's very resistant to change," said the CNN commentator. "I've read, for instance, that observers say that you don't change the Vatican, the Vatican changes you."
Last night, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attended the last ball of the Second Inauguration--the Staff Inaugural Ball.
“My main job here tonight,” Obama told the campaign staff, volunteers, and Democratic National Committee staff, “is really simple: It’s just to say thank you. All of you have come to represent for me and Michelle our deepest hopes for America. The average age here is probably around 20 something. And that’s only because I’m here, which brings the average age up, quite a bit.”
Tampa Artur Davis, a former Democratic congressman from Alabama, has been a Republican for only a few months. But his speech tonight at the Republican convention is important because he reflects a major theme of Mitt Romney’s campaign against President Obama and another theme promoted by the GOP.
A campaign spokesman for President Obama's reelection team, Jen Psaki, seemed to agree with an MSNBC host earlier today that the president is not able to run on "hope" and "change" this election cycle:
In an interview tonight with News Channel 8’s Keith Cate from Tampa, President Obama praised his administration's ability to "[use] the Internet more effectively" so that folks, "If they need a government service, they don’t have to navigate through 50 websites, they can go to one website so on those fronts we’ve done a lot, we’ve made a lot of progress."
During the Obama presidency (still less than three years old), the number of Americans who think their country’s best days are in the future, rather than in the past, has taken a 33-point turn for the worse, according to a newly released Rasmussen poll.
An upbeat beginning to the school year in today's Washington Post: The new ABC/Post poll has Obama's overall approval at 43 percent, with 53 percent disapproving. If these numbers hold, it's very unlikely Obama will be reelected.
The American people are in for it. When Republicans lose elections, they blame each other: Talk radio blames the RINOs; the squishes blame the pro-lifers; the social conservatives blame the Big Business types, and so on. Each faction maintains that their party will never find acceptance with voters until the rest of the movement looks just like them.
Radio and television personality Glenn Beck today hosted hundreds of thousands of rallying citizens from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. In what was an amazingly apolitical rally, Beck and his fellow speakers focused on three themes: faith, hope, and charity.