All will crumble, all will tumble

    A reader, Jeff, commented on our recent thoughts about artists and architects warning about cracks in the system,
    "This thread looks like a good time to reintroduce the design firm SITE and it's work for Best Products Company."
    He's right. Here's the Best store in Sacramento

    with the so-called "earthquake entrance" :

    Those SITE stores for Best products - a chain now defunct - could be seen as the architects understanding before others that ruin is near. When they were new they reminded us of the "ancient Roman ruins" that went up in Paris in the 18th century.

    This half-circle of broken Corinthian columns, made to look antique and Roman, and ruined, went up in what today is Paris' Parc Monceau. The park was was built between 1773 and 1778 - not long before the Revolution - for Phillippe d'Orléans, the Duke of Chartres, one of the wealthiest men in France. When you've got so much, and you know how you got it, after a while it all becomes so decadent. That's usually right before the fall. You know it can't last. Dust-to-dust, all will crumble, all will tumble.

    And, the Duke and his architects must have whiffed the seeds of Revolution in the air. They unintentionally made the coming ruin physical.

    "We shape our architecture and it in turn shapes us." -- Winston Churchill.

    Be careful how you choose your architecture, and your politics. I disagree with those who say that to reflect contemporary chaos is enough. Part of an artist's responsibility could be to improve the conditions around him or her, or at least to try.

    At around the time the Duke is using antique orders to make untrue claims about his land ownership, another leader, elsewhere, was also inspired by Roman ruins, what he thought were Republican ruins. Thomas Jefferson borrowed from the ancient Roman Maison Carrée in Nimes, France

    to design the Virginia State Capitol (1785), the "temple of democracy".

    And Jefferson, building on what he considered blessed land, was inspired by the Roman Pantheon and other early models for his home at Monticello.


    Phillippe d'Orléans, the Duke of Chartres, soon after spending his wealth on those fake antique ruins and other follies, he met the Revolution. He began calling himself Phillippe-Egalité, and acted as contrite as a Detroit automaker today; but the people still had him guillotined.

    Thomas Jefferson adapted antique, Renaissance and neo-Classical models for American democracy. We know which system lasted.

    We know the French state-controlled system today. Is that where the U.S. is headed? And if so, what would be the appropriate architecture?

    "Earthquake Entrance" photo:© Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS
    Photographed: September 17, 1994, Sacramento, California, USA

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