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Lesson Plans

Re: Monuments/Size

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
R. Moore (ronmoore)
Thu, 11 Mar 1999 16:55:55 -0800 (PST)

Much in the news of late (and featured at length on Lehrer Report) has
been the surrounding of the Washington Monument with scaffolding. The
artist commissioned to create it is Michael Graves, known for his
whiz-bang postmodern buildings (Humana Building in Louisville, the
Portland Building in Portland, Oregon, for instance) and his po-mo
artifacts (e.g. the angular Graves Tea Kettle). It's a necessary
superstructure, and one that will stay in place for quite a while, because
the repairs required to the monment itself are considerable. But, Graves
has chosen to create a design that is visually arresting, and not just
utilitarian. Many folks who have seen the newly-clad structure say it
looks better that way! The real payoff comes at night, when the whole
superstructure lights up in bands of balls of light, making the obelisk
shape glow brilliantly against the night sky.
One might want to discuss the old/new monument with students. One
effect of the superstructure is to make the whole thing bigger. Is this a
difference that makes a difference? Does the visual shift from smooth
stone to a network of metal pipes cause a different impression, suggest a
different power? Is the new look more fitting for our time, and the old
for the time it was built? If most people like the new look, should it be
allowed to remain after the repairs are done? What difference does it
make that the monument now is so conspicuous at night?
And, just for the fun of it, it might be a good classroom project
to look at the various alternative designs that were submitted in the
competition that led to the Washington Monument taking the simple obelisk
shape it did. Among them was an equestrian statue of George Washington,
meant to work much as the equestrian statue of Trajan worked in Trajan's
Forum. Other designs were lumpy, mausoleum-like structures, fancy
wedding-cake-like ornate structures, etc. After looking at what might
have been, it might be worthwhile asking students to design what they
think would be fitting monuments to replace the WM, if for some reason
(like radon or asbestos contamination) it had to be disassembled.