The bad feng shui of monumental clutter

by Yule Heibel on April 22, 2003

It’s the weirdest thing: images seem to disappear off the web, or perhaps are never posted in the first place. Yet I do know that there exist pictures — which I couldn’t find — that clinch the argument that Friedrich St. Florian’s design for the World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington DC uncannily resembles Albert Speer’s proposal for Germania, his World War II era redesign of Berlin.

The National Coalition to Save Our Mall appeared on the scene early, in the Spring of 2000, to attempt to avert the approval of St. Florian’s proposed design. Unfortunately, it was approved, but Save Our Mall continues to fight other battles: the mall appears up for grabs, ready to be cluttered up with more and more unnecessary stuff, rather like a shopping mall. The other day, Judy Scott Feldman of Save Our Mall sent around a link to Christopher Knight’s LA Times article, America’s Maul, which presents a lucid argument for preserving the mall’s intended meaning. Read it in its entirety; here is an excerpt:

“The openness of the Mall is a central symbolic feature of Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s renowned 1791 plan for the new nation’s seat of government. In fact, disgust with 19th century clutter is responsible for the Mall we see today. After a disfiguring period of rapacious commercial development, the L’Enfant scheme was revived and modified in 1901 at the direction of a Senate committee, led by Michigan’s James McMillan. A brilliant team of artists that included landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens and architects Charles F. McKim and Daniel H. Burnham devised the McMillan Plan.
Their inventive ground plan embodies the rational order of Enlightenment thought. Shaped roughly like a kite, its long axis is anchored at one end by the Capitol, seat of the people’s representative government, and at the other by the Lincoln Memorial, shrine to the unbreakable union of the states. The short axis reaches from the White House, home of the nation’s civilian leader, to the Jefferson Memorial, which remembers the founding document — the Declaration of Independence.
Next to the point where the long and short axes cross, the great obelisk of the Washington Monument anchors the design. It’s the spindle around which the capital city turns. These individual components form a clear network of structures that, taken together, outline the late-18th century principles on which our social contract as a nation was written. The Mall is a physical emblem of democracy, constructed from buildings, memorials and sculptures.
And, not least of all, from open landscape. The glue for its five distinct structures is empty space — an open, unencumbered park. There, the citizenry is invited to gather.”

Perhaps coincidentally, or perhaps because this sort of thing is on the march, Speer’s son, Albert Jr., submitted a grand design to develop China’s capital Beijing in preparation for the 2008 Olympics. It’s a project, however, that begs to be compared to his father’s plans for Germania.

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And on the enviro-front in BC, finally some good news: The Sierra Legal Defense Fund is taking the Canadian federal government to court over the disaster wreaked on BC native salmon species by fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago, arguing that the government is breaching its constitutional duty to protect aboriginal fisheries. I’m delighted that this issue is going before the courts, since all public protest and scientific evidence hasn’t brought about much of a change in government and industry promulgation of these harmful policies. Native Pacific salmon, in BC, is a lynchpin species that connects to the environmental health of an entire ecosystem: ruin the salmon and you ruin First Nations’ way of life along with the food chain upon which bears, wolves (yes, wolves: they fish salmon here), and even birds depend. Mess up the bears and the wolves and you mess up the deer and the cougar, and so on down the line.

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