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    Culture and Architecture

    May 4, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I remember the first {and only} time I saw Washington D.C. I was amazed at the original buildings there, all the Greek and Roman emphasis. I didn’t understand why the city was designed with such a feel. After all, weren’t the original Americans mostly British born? And weren’t they Christians or at least highly influenced by the Church? I was baffled by the presence of pagan idols depicted in the artwork.

    The Geography of Nowhere. explains where this architectural style originated and how it was deeply tied to the American culture at the time:

    When Thomas Jefferson went to France in the early 1780s, he was urged by the architects he met, especially Clerisseau, to study the architecture of the ancient world directly rather than through books written by later interpreters such as Palladio. Jefferson’s close study of a specific building, the Maison Carrée–a Roman version of a Greek temple–formed the basis of the architectural ideas he brought back to America. For him, the temple represented the culture that had first conceived democracy {Greece}, and that which had first devised a republican form of government {Rome}, and it carried for Jefferson deep associations with his own classical education and his feeling that a democratic republic could only flourish if its citizens were educated.

    This became a fad across the nation, but it was a fad with some cultural depth:

    [I]n the 1830s, any new house of consequence was a Greek temple, and farmers tried to approximate the look in the plainest dwellings by running pilasters up the corners and treating the gable end as a decorated pediment. It was neither expensive nor difficult to execute, and was a way for ordinary people to express their connection with exalted national ideals–every house a temple in its sacred democratic grove!

    The architecture was, Kunstler writes, a celebration of democratic institutions.

    Today’s houses are, conversely, a celebration of Industrialism. {Before I quote this, I feel inclined to reveal that I live in a tract home, and I am thankful for tract homes in the sense that they make housing affordable for people like me. However, the philosophy behind tract homes is not, in my opinion, ideal.} Kunstler writes:

    These housing “products” represent a triumph of mass merchandising over regional building traditions, of salesmanship over civilization. You can be sure the same houses have been built along a highway strip outside Fresno, California, at the edge of a swamp in Pahokee, Florida, and on the blizzard-blown fringes of St. Cloud, Minnesota. They might be anywhere. The places they stand are just different versions of nowhere, because these houses exist in no specific relation to anything except the road and the power cable.

    The factory model is the emblem of our culture. We use it for education, putting small children in the beginning of the factory, adjusting them to various preset standards along the way, and expecting a standardized result on the other end. The same goes for our neighborhoods. And neighbors spend a lot of energy condemning each other for the ways in which they fail to conform to the various preset standards of the neighborhood.

    These standards have become a substitute for a true living and breathing culture. They are based not on shared virtues and vision, but rather a desire to exert power over others in an attempt to cause mass conformity to a multitude of rules.

    The extreme result of a culture like this is, eventually, Communism. Communism uses the schools to mass produce workers for its national factory. Everything in Communism is a factory, and the focus is on the collective, conforming results rather than individuals endowed with rights and souls by Nature and Nature’s God.

    So, Communism architecture would be the antithesis of what we have seen in our nation’s history. Various friends and missionaries I have met over the years describe the buildings as ghastly, grey, boxy, and ugly. Here is an example. I heard once that communist architecture sacrifices form and beauty for the sake of homogeneity.

    The environment reinforces the culture, also. Perhaps this is why the building of ugly government buildings, a habit of our culture since the mid-60s, particularly frightens me. These buildings speak of a culture that is far from beautiful, graceful, or celebratory.

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  • Reply Brandy May 6, 2009 at 5:02 am

    Oh, the link worked. But I kind of like it…it reminds me of a Hershey bar. YUM. 🙂

  • Reply Rahime May 6, 2009 at 4:38 am

    Actually, I think that’s one of the prettier versions of communist architecture since there’s at least some visual interest, minimalist (and ugly) though it is…here’s what 90% of the communist era buildings (apartment buildings, government buildings, university buildings, etc) looked like in the parts of Russia I visited:

    hope the link works.

  • Reply Brandy May 5, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    Hi Jen!

    Sorry the email didn’t work out. If you don’t mind, I’ll answer you in a post so that we can get comments from other mommies who have done a better job than me! 🙂

  • Reply Jennifer May 5, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Hi Brandy! I can’t email you for some reason…

    I was wondering if you could give me your insight on a scheduled day for toddlers. My discipline with them has been lagging, so that is my initial goal- I think that will make all of us happier. But I need to know what to do with them all day. Do you have time? Thanks : )

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