mr. zilla goes to town

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

land of hope and gaudy

I'm becoming surprised at the length of the timeframe that neo-classical design held sway in the public monuments of DC. I thought that perhaps it was the reconstruction-era Washington that saw the monumental city take shape, but it turns out that a fair few of city's iconic buildings in this school date to much later (Union Station in 1912, the Supreme Court in 1935 for example). Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that the idea held fast, as the continental colossus spread its wings into hemispheric hegemony and beyond during that later period. Fostering resonance with the ancient Roman republic may have just been a very comfortable psychological fit.

Still I guess I hoped that with that sense of grandeur in mind they might have actually done the construction with a greater eye to eternity. When you look twice and thrice at some of the monuments, it feels like some were built by a bunch of congressmens' porky young nephews with a ute and a borrowed concrete mixer. For example, the Thomas Jefferson memorial. At least it has ionic capitals - to me more sparing and elegant - than the monotonously Corinthian work spread throughout the rest of the 'vatican' end of the city. Alas about half of the capitals at the top of the 50ft columns are bagged and wired up to prevent cracked and falling statuary from falling on the heads of intrepid patriots who make the walk south around the potomac basin. Inside the monument -- which is open on four sides to salty breezes -- the bronze lettering cries greenly onto its stonework housing, while the domed roof shows haphazard watermarks and stains.

Still... I could forgive the problems of the Jefferson memorial to some degree. It was built during World War Two, and a plaster statue of Jefferson was used until after the war was over because bronze was too important to wartime production. The real wry tragedy is the George Mason memorial, so new that it isn't even on the tourist maps yet - where all the stone benches are cracked, and all the pillars supporting the gazebo are fractured with some strategically placed metal banding to hold them together.

When you're standing on the front porch of the most powerful nation ever known, what kind of message does it send the neighbours to have Uncle Tom patrolling the yard with a shotgun while the prized lawn ornaments fall apart before their first century is out? And how soon do you start to worry about some of the other leading indicators attributed to the fall of that ancient analogue?


  • I also wish these monuments were built with moire love and attention to the future, thank you for this article.

    By Anonymous Mr. Concrete Statue, at 11:26 pm  

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