Urban Renewal

My wife Kathy is a great arbiter of architectural tastes. She constantly laments why is it that when they tear down old buildings they always replace them with uglier ones? There was a particularly hideous building near K Street and Vermont Avenue in DC that looked like a stack of concrete chicken wire. Oddly, it was designed to look that way. They finally brought it down last year. Rising in its place is a giant blue flashcube. You remember flashcubes, right? They were little silver cubes that contained four mini flashbulbs. They sat on top of “instamatic” cameras in the 1960’s. One side flashed when you took a picture and then rotated a quarter turn to ready the next one. After four shots, you threw it away. She says this building should be tossed now. She fears it may be a larval form of the concrete chicken wire thing. If the wrecking crew didn’t excavate deep enough, they didn’t get the roots, and the monstrosity might grow back.

She prefers it when they gut an existing structure, keeping the exterior gingerbread, complete with finials and gargoyles, and just install a new interior. At least the older buildings had some character. She abhors the LasVegasing of DC, you know, a New York skyline erected across the street from a giant lion which is down the road from the Eiffel Tower, What happened to that Federal style with the terracotta tile roofs? Has there been a tremendous dropping of standards in architectural schools? And why is it that the newer buildings never last as long? They seem to have to be replaced every few years.

This reminds me of one of those sightseeing bus tours I took with my son in London some years ago. At a traffic signal the guide called our attention to a taped-off building to our left. She said: “You will remember the Tower of London which features extant parts of the Roman settlement from the year 1000. The condemned building you see here was constructed in the 1960’s. It is falling apart and considered dangerous to enter. Ironically, it is the London Public Safety Building. Evidently, we really do not build them like we used to.”

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