Most visitors to (and even residents of) Washington, D.C. have no idea what they’re looking at when they see the Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, or the White House. Certainly, they may know that these rather grand buildings are places where famous people have lived and worked, or where the memory of a person or event is commemorated, but oftentimes they don’t know why these structures look the way that they do. They may also not understand why it is that the Nation’s Capital is laid out the way that it is, in a design that differs so radically from many American cities.
If you happen to find yourself in DC over the next few weekends, I encourage you to consider taking one or all of this year’s Classical Architecture, Classical Values Tours, hosted by the National Civic Arts Society (NCAS). The NCAS is probably well-known to many of my readers as an organization dedicated to the promotion of good art and architecture, which has helped spearhead the effort against the hideous Frank Gehry design for the national monument to President Eisenhower, in favor of something more in keeping both with the grandeur of the Nation’s Capital and the legacy of Ike himself. Yet the NCAS does much more, such as engaging in efforts to ensure that the new National World War I Memorial will be fitting tribute to the men and women who died preserving our freedom, encouraging the work of talented architects and artists who respect and embrace the past while bringing their own creativity to bear on their projects, or poking at the sacred cow of contemporary architecture and the cult of personality that often accompanies the ugly buildings that scar our cities and towns.
From their tours page:
The National Civic Art Society’s 2016 “Classical Architecture, Classical Values” walking tours provide an understanding of the enduring connection between core American values and the classical architecture of the nation’s capital.
Our expert tour guides will explain the timeless vision of the Founding Fathers and their tradition-honoring successors, which has resulted in the iconic public buildings and monuments that superbly embody the principles of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. The guides will also examine the role of our memorials in crystallizing national identity and historic memory.
Each tour lasts approximately 3 hours, and costs $15.00 – but note, students, interns, and Hill staffers can register for free. Beginning this coming Saturday, and continuing every other Saturday into early July, the tours will give participants the “why” behind DC’s many important buildings and monuments. Topics include how the Ancient Greeks and Romans influenced not only our form of government, but also the very buildings that house our government; comparing the different ways that architects have approached designing the memorials that we are all familiar with; or looking at how a rapidly growing Capital embraced classical architecture during the modern architecture boom of the 1930’s and ‘40’s. The biographies of the group leaders listed on the tour page include architects, historians, and writers, all of whom who have an in-depth knowledge of design and history, which will make these tours more than a simple walkabout with a tour guide who has memorized a script.
Whether you live in DC, or happen to be in town on one or all of the Saturdays, these tours constitute a tremendous opportunity to learn more about your country’s history and values, and about why lasting architecture is so important as an expression of both.