What’s the Tea Party line on architecture, and architects?
know the political party’s ideas on a range of hot-button social issues
as well as its general anti-tax, small-government worldview. Surveying the activity
across the nation, let’s conclude that architects build, and the Tea Party
tears down, to paraphrase Jon Favreau at The Daily Beast.
find there’s no place for architects in the Tea Party, and no place for the Tea
Party in architecture. More
than that, the party seems to cast a suspicious eye at all buildings, new
or old. Dozens of historic preservation efforts have been targeted by Tea Party
chapters, and various new projects have been attacked.
Stop the stadium!
Last week, it was the Tea Party’s
aim to derail plans for a new Atlanta Braves stadium designed by HKS Architects.
Like every stadium built in modern times, the plan involves state and county funds
and tax incentives. Atlanta Tea Party Leader Debbie Dooley told AP, “The
government is not supposed to pick winners and losers. This is anything but
government does choose winners, of course, by doling out architecture projects and
infrastructure works like roads and bridges. These are consistently opposed
by Tea Partiers. Even the federal Design Excellence program run by the General Services Administration (GSA) draws boos.
Mainstream Republicans incur the wrath of small-government Tea Party folks by supporting any spending. Last
month, it was Representative Bill Shuster in Pennsylvania, who stuck his neck
out for $8.2 billion in federal maritime construction projects.
Apparently, the Tea Party is motivated by its mistrust of certain architectural ideals that to their ears smack of elitism or
Demolish first, ask questions later
Tea Party Miami, for example, has been hell-bent on demolishing the 1960 Miami
Herald building, with 78 percent of its members in favor of replacing the Naess &
Murphy design with anything: a “parking garage, casino, condo or office
building.” Their Web site overflows with angry screeds against the Herald’s “bad”
Miami Modern (or MiMo) architecture, which the group contends “is not a ‘historic’
style of architecture” and so shouldn’t be protected as a landmark.
National Trust for Historic Preservation disagreed, saying it would grant
the building special status. But in the end, the Tea Party got its wish: The
local preservation board in Miami declined to make the structure a landmark, and an 850,000-square-foot Genting casino designed by Arquitectonica will soon replace it.
Another modernist icon, Paul Rudolph’s
famed Orange County Government Center in New York state, has been the object of
political wrath since it was emptied after a flood several years ago. Phaidon
reported on a proposed replacement, “a bland traditional pastiche, or ‘Tea Party Colonial’ as it’s dubbed.” Since the construction cost was given at $136 million, it
seems likely to face opposition, even if the red brick image earned it
early Tea Party admiration.
New-old architecture is like a
magnet for the Tea Party. Its leaders invariably live in suburban McMansions of
various sizes, built recently but gussied up to look old and distinguished. A
recent news reports showed a pro-immigration reform group staging a rally at one politician's house. It looked like a flock of zombies descending on a generic American
homestead in a Walking Dead episode.
New-new architecture is a no-no,
however. Anything innovative or vaguely European-looking is abhorrent.
One reason is that the Tea Party believes they’re a
sign of government excess or corporate greed, or both. “Government buildings
from Congress to the State House to the School House, tend to be much nicer
these days than the homes of the individual taxpayers who bore the costs of
their construction,” writes Mark Moore, a blogger and “localism” activist on
the Web site of the Washington County Tea Party in Fayetteville, Ark.
Moore concludes that “witness of
our society's architecture is that two institutions are the most important --
government and the largest corporations. It is no accident that those two are
often working together.”
the production values of our fine federal buildings that bothers Moore, along with many other Tea Party members. That’s why the
GSA’s Design Excellence program has also been such a big target for its ire, as editor William Menking points out in The Architects Newspaper. Created in 1994, the federal initiative
pushes for world-class architecture to match the great works of
Jefferson, Latrobe and McKim, Mead and White. The Tea Party, among others,
is “itching to axe [it] from the Federal budget,” Menking writes.
Code for creeping internationalism
Design quality aside, the Tea Party even argues against U.S. building codes, which
protect the public with common-sense minimums for safety. Again, their issue centers on federalism versus localism.
The most recent push against codes took place in Gilbert, Ariz., “a hotbed of “Tea Party”-style conservative activism,” writes Parker Leavitt in the Arizona Republic. “Outspoken
residents have rallied against the proposed codes and have found allies on the
Town Council.” Their beef: Codes from the International Code Council in use across most jurisdictions in the United States.
see the word ‘international,’ and it scares me,” said one Gilbert resident, Stephen
Stirling, who warned his neighbors to not “jump off this cliff and adopt
international codes.” Sorry, Stirling: These are U.S. codes, invented and promulgated here, not some global conspiracy.
when it comes to architecture and construction, our Tea Party neighbors are all
NIMBY. They don’t like safety codes. They don’t like saving old buildings. They don’t like building new ones either. Especially if they’re too fancy. Or
involve the government somehow. Or corporations. Or both.
good news is that baseless government shutdowns are temporary. But our national passion
for creating great buildings -- that work well -- is as lasting and resilient as our architectural heritage has proven to be.
(Photo: Courtesy of Can't Win This Game)
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com