War and Architecture – Part 2

My recent posting about how cities memorialize their history in the buildings they renovate or build from scratch generated comments that added a great deal to the discussion going on in my own mind.

Emily at Back Bay View is “suspicious of postmodernists like Libeskind who want to make their patrons uncomfortable and to force them to think. Granted, trying to recreate the past too precisely sometimes results in a sentimental/themepark like effect. But, on the other hand, for how many years can you exist in/with a building that is a criticism of the human person? At some point, I would think, the discomfort will fade and the intended self-conscious effect won’t take place.

“Wouldn’t it be more healing to build structures that promote healing, rather than criticism? Couldn’t you say that the old building doesn’t represent a severe authoritarian past, so much as an orderly past, a past that preceded the Nazis by centuries, and an attempt to restore order is an act of hope? Whereas the architect who intends to break self-delusions promotes a discomfort with the self that leads not to hope but to melancholy?”

Frances informed me that Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-5 is about the bombing of Dresden, and also shared her experience of living and traveling in Germany: “I’ll always remember Freiburg, which was heavily bombed during WWII. When they rebuilt it, they used the original, medieval plans, so that it was exactly the same as before.”

Emily’s comments sent me back to the review I wrote of Architecture of Happiness, and I figured out that one basic reason I couldn’t like the new military museum was its failure to abide by the first principle of good architecture laid down in that philosophical book:
“Order. But not over-simplified. We like to see complex elements arranged in a regular pattern. What the author calls the ‘perverse dogma’ from the Romantic Period, that all edifices must be of original design, led to chaos in the landscape. ‘Architecture should have the confidence and the kindness to be a little boring.’

“I was wondering if perhaps a museum might get away with such a brash statement, where being made to think isn’t a bad thing, but you are probably right, the statement will lose its effect. (I hope in the meantime it squelches those Neo-Nazis a bit)…and yes, the jarring buildings fail to offer hope or show harmony. But without reference to or undergirding by the Christian gospel, an artist is unlikely to find those elements, and will drift from melancholy right on to nihilism.”

We have to ask, as Jody did, “If you were to rebuild Dresden and not look back, but forward, how would you go about it? I agree that “onward and forward” is the best, but would there not be little bits of the past that one would want to honor, I wonder? (not the ugly, of course)”

Emily also “…went to the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, VA, which has a very similar slanted pyramid design which is supposed to recall the photo of marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima. (and a statue is right in front of the museum so that reference isn’t missed). But in the case of the MCM, the glass pyramid doesn’t interrupt another building like Libeskind’s design, since it’s located outside the city and rises above the treeline and catches the sunshine. So a very similar design in a different context has a completely different effect.

“Likewise, I couldn’t help thinking of another glass pyramid, the one designed by IM Pei as an additional entrance to the Louvre. I don’t know the philosophy behind it, but it just strikes me as out of context and so a little silly, like a non sequitur comment. Maybe there is some reason for its being, but it was lost on me, your average tourist.”

Kari hopes that “we can find a way to heal the past without forgetting, and to go forward in peace, love, harmony. The Holocaust brings us face to face with forgiveness and with how to forgive in the face of the unforgivable.”

I wanted to share this discussion with anyone who might have been interested in the topic but who didn’t get in on the ensuing and improving thoughts. Since I wrote the original post we had the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, which got me thinking about further aspects.The Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse page now has an article on the subject, wherein the author points out links to the whole Allied strategy. Consequentialism is a word that was new to me, discussed here on the Witherspoon page and on Touchstone’s Mere Comments. The Ochlophobist questions our utilitarian mindset that can’t tolerate the absolute moral principle.

I’m in over my head as usual, but it’s obvious that some of my readers are good at this kind of swimming. I hope I am learning something from them as I flail about.

3 thoughts on “War and Architecture – Part 2

  1. Well it's you I'm learning from! I've always loved the Pyramide at the Louvre. I love the reflection of the grandiose through the clean purity of the glass. I think when I was there pre-Pyramide there was so much beauty that I couldn't take it in, but the Pyramide focuses the eye and the spirit in a human way. And the suns loved the founatins and the descent under the glass that feels like an Ascension at the same time!

    The architecture we have here of our past, present and future, much discussed, is that of the “peace” lines- walls that divide communities for their own protection. And the murals that adorn.

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  2. I've never been in the Louvre, but have seen pictures of before/after the glass pyramid. I must say that my reaction was the same as the person who “didn't get it.” It jarred my senses, and I didn't like it. But as I say, I've not visited it.

    I think some people feel there is intrinsic value in jarring the senses, in shaking others out of their comfort zones. I don't know that I agree, unless one can also be sure of jarring them in a particular direction, or toward a particular conclusion. Chaos for chaos's sake is nonsense to me. But I am a lover of order, a believer in God. And although I do believe beauty has many faces and shows her glories to her lovers in different ways, beauty itself should never be abandoned for (as you note) melancholy, nihilism, or chaos.

    In architecture, we build things much larger than we are — we make statements larger and more timeless than we are. We should be careful to leave to posterity images that will edify.

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  3. Thinking about art and monuments created to disrupt, disturb, make us think. When I was younger, I was very interested in art that did this, but now the problem is that this sort of art or public expression/display has become commonplace.”Nothing's shocking any more,” as they say. Actually, the most shocking thing you can do among most of my peers is believe in God and call yourself a Christian (but I digress). Well, it's late, and I'm rambling, but I did enjoy reading the comments. Such smart readers you have!

    frances

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