Seeing DC: Summer Architectural Tours Of The Capital With NCAS

I’m heading off on vacation to Spain today, so blog posts may be sporadic, but you can check my progress by visiting my Instagram page

In the meantime, I wanted to share this opportunity for seeing some of the interesting architecture of Washington DC metropolitan region, if you happen to find yourself in the Nation’s Capital this summer. The National Civic Art Society will be taking a look at a range of styles and subjects, from the British colonial past, to the Founding Fathers, to the horrors of Brutalist architecture. Definitely worth checking out or sharing with someone you know!

National Civic Art Society 2017

“Our Classical Heritage” Tours of D.C.

The National Civic Art Society is proud to announce the launch of our 2017 “Our Classical Heritage” walking tours. These tours are fashioned for those who wish a greater understanding of why and how the District of Columbia came to be a classically designed city. You will learn of the ancient antecedents of our political philosophies, of the stylistic precedents of our architectural forms, and of the Founders’ classical vision.

About the tour guide: Michael Curtis studied classical architecture at the University of Michigan, and painting, sculpture, and engraving in Florence, Italy. He has been a sculptor for more than 25 years. Major commissions include The History of Texas at the Texas Rangers Ball Park in Arlington, Texas, the largest American frieze produced in the 20th Century, as well as portrait busts for the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Thurgood Marshall Building, and many other public venues. His specialty is portraiture and fine medals. His book Our Classical Heritage: A Guide to the Political Philosophy and Aesthetic Precedent of Washington, the District of Columbia, will be published in fall 2017.

Tours are limited to three hours in length and begin at 10 AM at the location indicated. The cost per tour is $10. NCAS members, students, interns, and Hill staffers may obtain free tickets by e-mailing info@civicart.org. You must RSVP in advance. If you have any questions, please e-mail info@civicart.org or call (202) 670-1776.

Tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/our-classical-heritage-national-civic-art-society-walking-tours-tickets-34436469407

Tour I: Washington, the Classical City — June 3

The ancient cause of liberty; the immediate reason for independence; the classical principle of our convictions; the aesthetic model of a civil society.

The National Mall, from the Washington Monument

The Washington Monument

The Jefferson Memorial

Meet at the southeast corner of Constitution Ave. NW and 17th St. NW.

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Tour II: National, Political, and Personal Liberty — June 10

The various aspects of liberty considered in exemplary statues.

Lafayette Park, Lafayette Statue, et alia

Alexander Hamilton Statue

The National Liberty Memorial

Meet at the entrance of Teaism at 800 Connecticut Ave NW.

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Tour III: Freedom and Sacrifice — June 17

A consideration of freedom, sacrifice, and the architectural style best suited to remembrance.

Lincoln Memorial

Vietnam War Veterans Memorial

Korean War Veterans Memorial

The National WWII Memorial

Meet at the west end of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool.

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Tour IV: Brutal Mistakes — June 24

Hubris and progressive misdirection; gradual abdication of citizen responsibility for morals and art; policy, an instrument to undermine traditional culture.

L’Enfant Plaza: Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, Housing and Urban Development, James V. Forrestal Building Department of Energy Building, L’Enfant Plaza Hotel

The Lyndon B. Johnson Department of Education Building

The Hubert H. Humphrey Department of Health and Human Services Building

Meet at the glass pyramid in front of the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel at480 L’Enfant Plaza SW.

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Tour V: British America — July 8

We trace in Alexandria, Virginia our growth from quaint colonial villagers to benevolent masters of the world.

Carlyle House and Lower King Street Warehouses

Prince Street and Local Alexandria

The Lyceum and the Confederate Statue

George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Meet at the front gate of Carlyle House at 121 N Fairfax St, Alexandria, VA.

Under Construction: Projects At Two Of The World’s Most Important Museums

There are some interesting construction projects ahead for the expansion of two already enormous, and enormously important, art institutions.

Following a recent renovation of part of its existing ground floor to expand its exhibition space, the National Gallery in London has set its sights on redeveloping St. Vincent House, located behind the museum’s Sainsbury Wing. The institution purchased the building almost 20 years ago, and it currently houses not only museum staff, but also paying tenants, including an hotel, a restaurant, a parking garage, and other offices. The leases of these tenants will be coming to an end within the next few years, allowing the museum to decide what to do next with the space.

St. Vincent House is one of those Brutalist architectual travesties that scar the downtowns of most of our cities. The only reason you’ve probably never seen it, if you’ve been to London, is that it’s mercifully well-hidden from Trafalgar Square. The stained, exposed aggregate concrete, rusting and peeling metal, crumbling brick, and utter lack of symmetry, grace, or proportion will be familiar to anyone who has ever visited, say, a college library built between about 1950 and 1980.

Since the building is tucked away, presumably there will be a reduced pressure upon the National Gallery to make it an architectural showstopper. Less visibility means less of a need to spend a fortune building something which most people will only experience from the inside, via a possible pedestrian bridge connecting the site to the Sainsbury Wing. This is the opposite of the problem faced by The Prado in Madrid during their recent expansion, which is not quite finished yet.

The buildings which The Prado has been expanding into were located not next door, but rather on a hillside directly behind the main bulk of the museum. Two of the them are the former throne room and ballroom of the Palacio del Buen Retiro, built in the 17th century. They were the only parts left standing after the rest of the palace was torn down, following destruction by Napoleon’s troops. The ballroom has already been integrated into the expanded Prado; the redevelopment of the former throne room was recentlly awarded to British starchitect Norman Foster.

As part of the The Prado’s expansion, a vast underground entrance, exhibition, and concessions area connecting these buildings by cutting into the hillside were designed by Spanish starchitect Rafael Moneo, connecting the buildings by cutting into the hillside. For reasons which I can’t fathom, Moneo was awarded the Pritzker Prize for archtiecture in 1996, and the Prince of Asturias prize for his contributions to Spanish architecture a few years later. If you are unfamiliar with his name, you are nevertheless familiar with his work, for Moneo is the designer of the monstruous Cathedral of Los Angeles, California, known among those who loathe both it and the now-disgraced Cardinal who built it as the “Taj Mahoney”.

Part of Moneo’s plan for The Prado expansion called for the disassembly of a former Baroque monastery in poor repair, which stood next to the Palace. The structure was reassembled inside a rather dull brick building whose interior otherwise reminds one of a small Marriott hotel circa 1994, which sits next to the former monastery chapel (now a parish church). While the chapel is not particularly remarkable, as far as the grandeur of Spanish ecclesiastical architecture goes, sitting next to this squat, red cube, it looks like an architectural masterpiece.

Being a Midcentury building, St. Vincent House has neither the historic pedigree nor the architectural grandeur of the spaces taken over by The Prado. Moreover, the construction timeframe is still some years away, until the leases run out, and so the museum can engage in the kind of discussion which involves long-term planning. Herein lies a real opportunity for the National Gallery to improve its offerings and focus on what its mission will be for the next few decades.

Of course, there is a hidden danger, as well. For sadly, as much as people of good will and common sense loathe the sort of Brutalism displayed by buildings like St. Vincent House, others actually love this stuff, and are becomnig increasingly vociferous about preserving it. The fact that more and more of these buildings are meeting their deserved end – and not before time, as they are falling to bits – spurs some among the (supposed) intellgentsia to argue that they should be preserved.

Back in 1984, Prince Charles almost singlehandedly stopped the proposed expansion of the National Gallery, by giving a totally unexpected speech in which he described the proposed extension of the Sainsbury Wing as “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend.” The left and the art press – but I repeat myself – have never forgiven him for it. The Sainsbury Wing as built was a tamer, more modest structure than the monstrosity shown in the image accompanying this post, which is what had been selected. What a truly great thing for Western civilization that this strange, Martian mining colony headquarters never came to be, even if the building constructed in its place is more interesting on the inside than it is on the outside.

Last year Prince Charles became the first Royal Patron of the National Gallery, which in British philanthropic circles usually means that executives will tend to pay a bit more attention to his thoughts and opinions regarding their activities. In addition, with all due respect to Queen Elizabeth, one can only assume that sometime within the next few years the Prince will finally become King Charles III, perhaps around the same time that the museum will be taking on its next major expansion. Let us hope that such influence will not only result in the wiping of St. Vincent House from the face of the planet, but also the construction of something sensible, serviceable, and in keeping with the fabric of the rest of the National Gallery.

Original proposal for the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery

The Courtier In The Federalist: Our Obsession With Midcentury Modern Design Is Out Of Control

'GILMORE GIRLS' TV SERIES - 2000My latest for The Federalist is out this morning, in which I look at some of the issues surrounding our current obsession with “Midcentury Modern”, that incredibly imprecise term which gets bandied about everywhere these days. The article builds off of a piece I wrote a few weeks ago for this site, which resonated with many of you. It gave me the opportunity to revisit the very gracious home of Richard and Emily Gilmore on “Gilmore Girls”, while at the same time praising the work of several key furniture designers of the past several centuries – not to mention making an aside about the “art” of Lucio Fontana. As always, I am ever grateful to everyone at The Federalist for the opportunity to share some of my musings with their readers.