“Is Architecture ‘Racist’?“, John Hinderaker asks at Power Line, linking to an article in Wednesday’s Denver Post on that city’s railroad station. As John notes, “Denver’s main train depot, Union Station, has been renovated and restored to its former glory (more or less), which is what troubles the arts critic. The restored building is, he thinks, racist…”
Of course it is, the Denver Post critic argues, perhaps sampling from Maureen Dowd’s hallucinogenic confectionery stash:
Let’s start with the building itself, the actual architecture. Union Station is a neo-classical mix of styles — European styles. The symmetry, arched windows, ornate cornice and stacked, stone walls have their roots in the glory days of France, England, Greece and Rome, in empires that were nearly absent of ethnic minorities and who felt fully at ease invading, exploiting and actually enslaving the people of Africa, subcontinent Asia and South America.
In response, Hinderaker writes:
This is mind-bendingly dumb. It is evident that the Post’s Fine Arts Critic didn’t major in history. France, England, Greece and Rome–four peas in a pod! But let’s not pause to consider the ancient Greeks’ conquest of Brazil, or what on God’s green Earth any of this has to do with Denver’s train station. The stupidity continues:
Yes, that’s all in the past; things have changed. But the $54 million renovation of Union Station doesn’t take that into account. It restores the symbols of an old world with no updates. The gilded chandeliers have been rewired, the marble polished, but there’s no nod to the present, no interior walls in the bright colors of Mexico, no Asian simplicity is in the remix. There are no giant sculptures by African-American artists bonused into the lobby, no murals on the basement walls.
Have you noticed that Asian-Americans don’t like to go anywhere that doesn’t exhibit “Asian simplicity,” and African-Americans won’t set foot in a public place unless it features “giant sculptures”? Sure. Just as I, a loyal Norwegian-American, refuse to patronize any restaurant that doesn’t feature a replica Viking ship in the lobby and whose walls are not lined with horned helmets. Stereotypes rule!
Does each individual ethnicity demand its own architecture to feel racially pure? Conversely, does architecture reflect the tribal prejudices of the culture that built it? Do the stereotypes of the day manifest themselves in the designs of public spaces? Well, that’s one way to look at the semiotics of architecture. I thought such opinions had been rather dramatically discredited by about May of 1945, but perhaps I was simply being naive.
But somewhere, the modern architects of the 1920s, who promoted what they called a universal “International Style” of design must be rolling over in their row upon Mies van der row of graves, to borrow a line from Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhaus to Our House.
Related: In other news regarding “Progressives” and their curiously idiosyncratic opinions on Rocky Mountain architecture, the JuiceVoxers have a rather interesting take on bathroom design in the Boulder area…