The Presidents Architectural Outlook
The Providence Journal
Obama’s Architectural Agenda
ADVICE IS POURING into the Office of Urban Policy, President Obama’s new White House shop on city affairs. The first metrosexual in the Oval Office has an in-box stacked high by now with learned papers advocating mass transit, bike paths, light rail, infrastructure repair, smart growth, green architecture, affordable housing, the New Urbanism, historic preservation and other ways to rebuild civic life, not to mention, say, gasoline-tax hikes to pay for it (if that’s necessary anymore).
Allow me to place on this towering pile a slender sheet that advocates traditional architecture.
No, the substitution of cornices, colonnades, architraves, mullions and balustrades for modern architecture’s glass curtain walls and computer-engineered feats of gravity defiance will not solve the nation’s problems. But as a policy tool, traditional architecture could advance many parts of the Obama agenda, not only in urban affairs, housing policy and areas with a more or less direct aesthetic component but in energy, climate, technology and even policies with no obvious aesthetic component whatsoever, such as reform of the corporate and financial systems or even international diplomacy.
For example, Obama wants to pursue policies to cut America’s carbon footprint that offer the biggest bang for the buck. The greenest policy is to reuse old buildings. He should reject high-tech energy-saving devices and “green” structural technologies now in vogue. They merely enable modern architects to inflate costs through ever more unconventional forms and engineering. Instead, the Office of Urban Policy should propose incentives for energy-saving methods embodied in traditional architecture, methods that emphasize practices and technologies predating our dependence on endless low-cost energy. Read More
Los Angeles Times
The Neoclassicism of Barak Obama
Over at his blog Hello Beautiful!, architecture writer and public radio fixture Edward Lifson has been asking the following question: “If Barack Obama were a building, what building would Barack Obama be?”
In response, one of his readers suggested Steven Holl’s spare, luminous 2007 addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City (“not flashy, [but] new and fresh”). …
Another nominated the 2004 main branch of the Seattle Public Library, below, by Rem Koolhaas and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (“forward-looking, intelligent, jazzy, cool”).
Coincidentally enough, I’ve been thinking lately along similar lines. Actually, I’m not sure it really qualifies as a coincidence: The urge to draw parallels between design or architecture and heads of state is hardly new. In his most recent book, “The Judicious Eye,” the architectural historian Joseph Rykwert points out that during the reign of Louis XVIII, some observers at the court compared the excessive ornament around the king’s bed frame to his round figure.
My goal, though, has been a little different from Lifson’s. I’m not especially interested in linking Obama to a single building or architect. What I’ve been trying to do is make sense of the connections I keep noticing between Obama’s first week or so in office and the ideals and symbols of neoclassicism.
At first I wanted to pretend those connections weren’t there. Neoclassicism — which in architectural circles has been unable to shake a dusty, stodgy reputation in recent years — and Barack Obama? What about the groundbreaking, precedent-shattering newness of a black president? Wasn’t a good portion of Obama’s campaign dedicated to relentlessly pounding home the idea of “change”?
Since wrapping up the Democratic nomination, though, Obama has put an increasing emphasis on history and the long view and gone out of his way to project a measured, even-keeled temperament. The event that marked the shift, in fact, was Obama’s August acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in Denver — a speech he gave in front of an aggressively symbolic neoclassical backdrop, below, dropped by his set designers into the steel-and-glass bowl of Invesco Stadium. Read More