Stephanie Solanki, 11/12/12

Today in class, Professor Powers spoke to us about architecture and how it is a symbol of society. His thesis was “architecture tries to provide a context for the life that will go on in an around the building. Some scholars call architecture a symbol of the ‘ethnos.'” It is a frame for the society of the time. I never thought of architecture as a tool to set the tone and capture the feel of the time in which it was built.

The Parthenon is the iconic architecture of Western civilization. It symbolizes reason powering over brute force. Monticello was Thomas Jefferson’s effort to do what the Parthenon did for Western architecture. He wanted to show off the intellect of America. The ethnos of the founding fathers was enlightenment, reason, and order. The type of building shows the type of country that the rulers of the country wanted to have. The Massachusetts State House is a building that shows that the founding fathers were enforcing reason and intellect in their new government. Its architecture shows the world that the American government is rational and intellectual.  St. Paul’s Chapel in Downtown New York. CSI is Georgian architecture. It is a very rational and structured architecture. The US Capital is also Federal, Neo-Classical, and Greek in style. It shows an extremely rational approach to the world. Southern plantation houses were also Greek-inspired because the Southern people drew a parallel between their lifestyles and the lifestyles of the ancient Greeks in that they both owned slaves.

This next part was very interesting to me because of the irony of the situation. The Museum of the American Indian was once called the Customs House. Its architecture showed the way that the entire world was subjected under the English way of living. Beaux-arts architecture shows that Western civilization dominates over all civilizations. Now it is the Museum of the American Indian. American Indians were pushed out because the Western civilization thought it could dominate over them.

I’ve learned in various history classes that pointed arches symbolize Gothic architecture. This type of architecture symbolizes religion. The religion was tied into society. It is very appropriate for churches and schools. It shows a lot of romanticism. It is more about individualism, irrationality, and emotions.

Professor Powers addresses the Brooklyn Bridge as a building in New York City. I think this is very appropriate because the bridge is a very essential and iconic part of the city’s charm. The Brooklyn Bridge is a completely scientific building. It is all steel and suspension. However, the engineers wanted to tie it in to the notion that the country is tied into its religious roots. It has pointed arches; it is a Gothic bridge.

This contrasts the George Washington Bridge, which is a more honest kind of architecture. This means that a building should reflect its structure, purpose, and materials. Everything on the bridge has an engineering purpose.

After WWI a big change occurs in architecture. It is a rejection of traditional civilization. The carnage of WWI produces very left-wing engineers. They have an ethic that rejects all cultural associations of historical architecture. The buildings should be shaped logically and scientifically. The society was very scientific. It is called the international style. After WWII America starts to believe that culture creates a war atmosphere. The international style erases all culture, and it is more peace-favoring. The UN building is an example of this style. This type of building indicates the idea that work is more important than thought. This was the idea that intellect and culture should be trumped by the energy of the worker. The future belongs to the masses of the workers.

 I always thought that Central Park was created to be an escape from the urban lifestyle. Central Park has beaux-art elements. I learned today that it is romantically constructed, however. The paths wind in any which way. Central Park shows that even in a big city you can live in nature. However, it is very manmade because everything in it was moved from one place to the park. It is a work of art to become a symbol of romanticism. This shows that the urban nature of New York City is hard to escape. The creators of Central Park felt that the city needed a retreat from the harsh and dry city; however they had to plan out how this retreat would work. One can see that the idea of a retreat was structured and not spontaneous by looking at an aerial shot of Central Park. It is a perfect rectangle.

The Empire State Building was constructed in 1931. It shows that modern life is supposed to be fast and rational. These kind of buildings glorify capitalism. It shows the self-glorification of capitalism. This type of architecture reflects the lives we live not. They call our time the Commuter Age. We are always on the go and have very high expectations to meet. These buildings show that that we have to work hard and pick ourselves up from our bootstraps to get ahead in life. Rockefeller Center is also of the Art Deco Style. The dynamism and idea of maximizing profit was shown in these buildings. Ruthlessness was shown in this style. This ties back to the idea of an individual meeting his goals by himself and through hard work alone.

I really loved this class because I have always loved how the architecture of a certain place sets its tone. I never really thought what about the building sets the tone or why. It is really a very interesting subject. It makes me feel proud to live in New York because of the many different architecture styles that are right in my backyard. There’s so much to explore and learn about; the only thing we need to do is stop and think!