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NewTowner

The Athens of the South

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Many people have complained about the fact that a large number of Urban Planet conversations surrounding specific proposed projects in Nashville have been transformed into larger debates about the nature of architecture, and about what sort of expectations Nashvillians should have in regards to the physical makeup of their civic heart and public realm. Though I cannot for the life of me understand why, it has been requested that discussion of architectural theory be relegated to separate premises from the rest of Nashville's chat--as if the form and function of our buildings was somehow separate from the quality of our city.

In the interest of goodwill I oblige, though I cannot promise that talk of architecture will be completely divorced from all future discussion of Nashville's architecture (obviously). It seems reasonable, in any case, to at least start a new thread in which the gathering storm surrounding the long war between "Ancients" and "Moderns" can burn a little energy at its own expense. If any of you have second thoughts regarding the value of such a debate--if you wonder whether anything is truly at stake in the conflict between those who want Nashville to throw its considerable weight behind an emerging American Renaissance in classical urban architecture, and those who desire a continued commitment to a hypothetical future of cutting-edge experimentation, please rest assured knowing you can read on for good reason. This debate has been raging for a hundred years, and the current state of the American city should prove to you that everything is at stake. At long last, the tide is turning away from the hollow ideologies of the techno-obsessed Moderns, and Nashville may find itself the beneficiary of both new and timeless merit if we can summon the civic resolve and intellectual gravity necessary to produce a city worthy of both affection and respect, held up by the stone bearers of meaning produced by millenia of study and artistic achievement, and expressive of the universal human needs for Firmitas, Utilitas, and Venustas: Strength, Utility, and--above all--Beauty.

Nearly from its inception, Nashville aspired to be "The Athens of West"--and when the "West" moved out West, it aspired become "The Athens of the South". This hope was born for many reasons--perhaps the most significant being the city's remarkably early and furtive commitment to classical education and cultural achievement. Nashville had its first school back when its largest civic building was a one-story wooden jail--and among its original river-borne settlers were people who were literate enough to lament the (temporary) loss of one of their compatriots...in Latin. If you asked a 19th-century Nashvillian, even one who was opposed to slavery (there were many), why the Tennessee State Capitol had a reference to the Athenian Lysikratus Monument perched on its roof, or Ionic columns supporting its pediments, he would not have said, "Why, we are imitating the past!" or "We are using the language of Greek Revivalism to express our belief that Gyros are among the best sorts of sandwich!" Rather, he would have told you that Nashville, even though it existed some miles from other similar places (what place doesn't, in the end, exist some miles from other similar places?), had every right and duty to aspire to the finest, noblest, and highest achievements of Western--nay, human--Civilization, and that the capitol should be both timeless and decorous given its important role in the public sphere. "The Athens of the South" was not pretending, or aping, as children are apt to do when given pencils and paper and no proper training in the achievements of their betters. Nashville was aspiring to be a city worthy of comparison to The City, The Polis, and taking bold steps into the future with the wisdom of the Ancients at their backs and the informed confidence of hard-working competent adults with a lot to lose. They knew they could never create Paradise. But only by trying as best they could would they nurture that which is most strong, useful, and beautiful in the human heart. They aspired to be "The Athens of the South" not so that the city's eclectic Modern leaders would have an excuse to build a Reproduction Parthenon one hundred years later, but because they wanted to be a City on a Hill, a model of achievement and democracy, and an urban community of wondrous beauty and unprecedented accomplishment. If this was "backwards," then so was Athens itself, and Rome, and Florence.

Since this is a segregation of dialogue, rather than a new conversation entirely, I will launch the "opening" salvo by addressing two recent posts from the now liberated thread pertaining to the desperately mediocre proposed downtown Westin. It would not be fair to pretend they were never written. The first was written in response to my assertion that the non-moral and beauty-deprived "Utopia" of the Modernists was spawned from the same pathological progress-worship that produced Hitler's Nazism and Stalin's Communism. That was, I confess, a rather Large Statement, since the Modernists did not intentionally kill as many people as Hitler or Stalin. They were, after all, just architects:

Although there is some grain of truth in this, the rhetoric is overblown. As every schoolboy knows, Hitler and Stalin were not fans of Modernism, so it's a bit disingenous to link them with the Modernists, many of whom were actively persecuted by the fascists. Hitler, in fact, favored pompous, grandiose and "historical" architecture, most of which was banal and completely derivative.

I am, generally, a classicist. But I am really tired of the two sides in this debate (Modernist v. classicist) trying to demonize one another to the point of claiming that Modernism (much less its contemporary descendants) is nothing more than an expression of fascism. That's just a silly, college sophomore sort of argument.

I appreciate the silly college sophmore sentiments (they tickle), and I totally agree with most everything you wrote. But it seems that you did not understand my point--I never said that Hitler was a Modernist (though I think he was). Rather, I said that the ideologies shared by Hitler, Stalin, and Le Corbusier were all amoral committments to Progress Over All. I am not demonizing any of them, and nor do I have to, because any visit to Dachau, the Gulags, or downtown Buffalo will do the demonizing for me. For all of the above demigods, there was no beauty, no truth--everything and everyone was up for the axe if it stood in the way of our technologically empowered march into the man-made Earthly paradise: whether it is the homosexuals, the middle class, or downtown Detroit. Out with the old! In with the new! The Fascists, Communists, and Modernists were all notorious book-burners, were produced by pseudo-scientific Social Darwinian zeal for ruthless cultural "evolution", and shared a venomous contempt for any poor sop that disagreed with them. That alone is enough to link them together, even if--especially if--they hated each other. Now for the specifics:

Stalin lost his affection for Modernism after some dabbling, but for no good reason. A good half of Modernism's founding fathers were under his employ at one time or another, and they all argued (at great risk to their necks) that the paranoid beotch was compromising his commitment to the world revolution by indulging his tastes for grandiose Art Deco and techno-parodies of classicism. Achitecturally, Stalin was a bad communist, but CIAM (Congr

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Man!!! NewTowner you should write your own book, that was a long post. :blink:

I think Nashville is sticking to the Athens Of The South theme pretty well when it comes to the design of some of our building's The Library, Symphony ,and the Parthenon do very well in showing that.

But within that, Nashville is a cosmopolitan city and we love the modern contemporary look, probably more so.

As the city tries to reinvent itself and continue to grow I believe the classic and the modern look of our buildings will complement one another and blend in nicely.

Look at Chicago for example.

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Great thread idea!

I don't think we've ever debated architecture per se, NewTowner, but I feel obligated to say that I agree with many of your architectual points & and to some extent, your tastes. I do feel nashville (and every city) should crave quality architecture, and I do feel that what we've seen constructed in nashville lately is very low quality and very far from compelling or profound. I see only McSkyscrapers proposed, nothing that really makes me think "Damn, that's incredible".

I like height, I admit it, but I like quality too, mainly I like innovation, and vision, something unique.

Anyway, I'll wrap up by telling you one of the main purposes of Kheldane - to defend the rights of the private property owner. I strongly object to any government policy suggestions that infringe upon the rights of property owners. But that doesn't mean I disagree with whatever the "planners" are trying to do - just their strong-arm tactics of accomplishing it. Remember that all government decrees only have power because they carry the threat of police force & imprisonment. Even if you could use the government to force people to design buildings the way you want, would you want to? Would the resulting building reflect quality architecture or just the wonton application of state sanctioned violence?

I would like to see an improvement in urban design & architecture, but I want it to come about through voluntary, peaceful means. I like to think maybe some architects reading your thread will stop to think about quality more than they would have. Or perhaps you can talk to some people face to face. But I urge you, from a moral standpoint, to leave the government out of it. :thumbsup:

Anyway, we have a libertarian issues thread now, if you want to discuss this further:

http://www.urbanplanet.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=28960 :D

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Can we all agree that pre-stressed concrete buildings (a'la Vanderbilt Lowes Hotel) are crap? I still think that's the ugliest building built in Nashville (perhaps anywhere) in the last 20 years.

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Can we all agree that pre-stressed concrete buildings (a'la Vanderbilt Lowes Hotel) are crap? I still think that's the ugliest building built in Nashville (perhaps anywhere) in the last 20 years.

Have you seen the BMI building?

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I would like to see an improvement in urban design & architecture, but I want it to come about through voluntary, peaceful means. I like to think maybe some architects reading your thread will stop to think about quality more than they would have. Or perhaps you can talk to some people face to face. But I urge you, from a moral standpoint, to leave the government out of it. :thumbsup:

...

I have never argued that the government should force people to build classical buildings. First of all, I think this sort of design coercion would result in bad buildings--and second of all, it wouldn't be classical. No, I am with you on this, Kheldane. I argue that we need cultural Renaissance, and higher public expectations, and reform in our Bauhaus-dominated architectural education institutions, not a brigade of Doric police with electric batons. The government should, however, step in when property owners threaten the health and well-being of other property owners--I think the naked and monolithic parking garage proposed for the BBS project is exactly the sort of painful profiteering the state needs to mitigate. But good window proportioning should be enforced by an educated public with the powers of mockery and derision and economic boycott on their side, not by any sort of secret Post-n-Lintel brigade. I don't think the Athens of the South needs anything but more thinking and reading, in the end.

I would like to attempt a little shadow-boxing with the articulately frustrating CDKoellein, responding to some of the more outlandish comments he made on the Westin thread before the Ancient vs. Modern front moved over here, to this new forum where Nashville's Athenian aspirations can be sounded on. I must admit, I am not optimistic--my respected friend here has been thus far impervious to the penetration of some basic facts regarding the history of architecture as it is commonly regarded, and like many intelligent people in this field, he has insisted upon confusing Modern Architecture with Columns for the truly classical. The baby is being thrown out, but the bathwater remains...

I must weigh in on the modern v. classical debate. Those who are tired of it, skip ahead, but I have strong feelings on the subject and am hopeful that Nashville will increasingly elect modern design to express itself and its place in history.

The message of classicism in history is as much about empire and domination and oppression as any other message that could be traced through the centuries. That is why the style became so popular in near-pure form in America during the Beaux Arts movement when the United States was realizing its manifest destiny and claiming territory in all corners of the globe. It is, as noted, why Hitler admired it as the expression of his reich, as though Germany were the new Rome with himself playing the role of caesar. European nobles of the Enlightenment period used to adorn their gardens with bogus classical ruins, as if to claim descendancy from the ancient ruling class.

The "message of classicism in history" is nothing of the sort, and you have frankly gotten a little mixed up while dealing with the admittedly convoluted and complicated world of Enlightenment Historicism. For the record, nobody truly knows where classical architecture started, or what movement it may or may not have accompanied--there are hints in ancient Egypt, Jerusalem, Crete, and of course Mycenae--but the resounding message of classicism through history has been the search for order. It is the search for Truth and Beauty, as found in Nature, and as it is expressive of the Divine. There is, in fact, surprisingly perfect order in the chaos of this World--there are strangely resonate and similar proportions found in musical chords, in the nautilus shell, in snowflakes, in the human face, and in the form and function of architecture as the human body requires it and human eye delights in it. This order hints at the Divine, and the study of it has inspired great creative movements in the history of Civilization--for all races have expressed the longing for Paradise and, if inconsistently, a search for Truth and Beauty. Man is the measure, and God is the messenger.

When a bunch of British Imperialists in New Delhi used the language of classical architecture to dominate the city, they were obviously not following the classical ideal. They are talking the talk, but not walking the walk, and any cursory reading of either Vitruvius or Alberti would enable you to distinguish between oppressive pseudo-classical architecture and the real thing. A lot of pseudo-science has been used to justify and even conduct racial "purification" in the past, but that hasn't put you off science for keeps, or even your "progress", has it?

As far as the American Manifest Destiny thing goes, you may have a point--the City Beautiful movement in the late 19th century did indeed carry many imperial overtones...but it was also completely obsessed with grandiose super-straight highways and over-scaled buildings. It was a movement that had many good things, and several bad. Most of it was clad in classical detail--and lots of it was legitimately classical, but not all of it. It is remarkably complex, and warrants more study. But regardless, Mr. Koellein, I believe your concern for the inappropriate gesturing of American ambition is not entirely genuine. Your commitment to the skyscraper renders you inelligible for criticism on that front.

Hitler did not want to be Caesar. He wanted Mussolini to be Caesar--Hitler himself wanted to be Charlemagne/Hitler. He wanted Britain to be his ally--the English were Germanic cousins, after all, and they could have the "overseas" Empire to compliment Mussolini's Mediterranean Revival Empire and Hitler's reign over Continental Europe. Classical? Please--this is Modernity at its most techno-Utopian. All that Old-World make-believe Revivalism (I'm a Frank! You're a Latin warlord! Let's fight over petroleum and kill anyone who stands in the way of "Progress"!) required the highjacking the classical, and the discarding of its principles. Read above for more on Hitler's love of the "classical".

Finally--geez--I have to say that the Enlightenment brats you refered to, the ones who built fake ruins in their gardens, were kicking off the Modern movement. They were not "rulers", they were Romantics. In those early hours, as classical formal gardens were torn up and replaced with meandering English "landscape gardens", which were in turn filled with little classical/Chinese/Gothic/Islamic ruins and other such bric-a-brac, the beautiful and true was being discarded for the historicist Picturesque. Timeless principles were thrown away for timeline-based "period" collecting that only made sense if you believed man would remake all things, and that every passing Age was part of a great march that would one day usher in Utopia. Fake classicism is decidely Modern.

The truth is that when imitative buildings are built, they rarely express anyone's philosophy of architecture or time. The motive is more often the same as that which created Epcot or Disney World's Main Street: a desire to pretend. Pretend you are living in a quaint Victorian town(e) that suddenly erupted in 2006 from former pastureland at the suburban fringe. Pretend you are strolling about in togas and sandals. Pretend you are on a planet of Hollywood memorabilia or have boarded a roller coaster blasting off to space mountain. Pretend that new a parking garage is a Caribbean beach house complete with shutters and pastel cornices instead of a place to house vehicles. I like a city that is proud to be what it is and expresses its identity honestly.

...

I am encouraged to see new projects proposed for Nashville that are contemporary/modern. It is important that we also encourage them to be beautiful and to contribute to life in the city.

Any cursory glance at the latest Contemporary Architecture roster will expose more imitation than you can shake a stick at--people imitating Ando, imitating Le Corbusier, imitating Renzo Piano, imitating Calatrava--I don't think the classical can be dismissed as particularly "imitative" outright. Every aesthetic carries with it leaders and followers. I think the classical produces better leaders and better followers, and the original Nashvillians agreed with me. But whatever--you believe that classical architecture produces make-believe. Why? You have never told me why--but let me guess: you will argue that the classical harkens from an Age that has passed, and that it expresses hopes and ideas and fears which no longer apply to our culture? The classical, I imagine you would say, is merely costume jewelry for a motorized, digital people which itself is no longer classical.

Okay...when was the classical appropriate? When the Greeks built it? They didn't come up with it...though they certainly improved it and made unique statements with it--but it was old long before they searched for God in the nautilus shell. How about those beastly Romans? By the time they got ahold of it, and improved it in turn, it was already thousands of years old! How about the Ethiopians, the Persians? Ditto, and ditto! The Spanish caliphate in Granada? Sparks! And what about the most "backwards-looking" period in the history of humanity, that horrible nasty old Renaissance? Wouldn't we be better off without all those Da Vinci and Michelangelo bloopers? Shouldn't we have just stuck to the illiterate pigsty ordeal-ridden swamps of the Middle Ages (It's called the "Middle Age", as I am sure you know, because it was the period in between classicisms!), instead of learning from the Ancients and actually surpassing them in many instances? If you had seen Brunelleschi erecting the dome on Florence Cathedral, would you have sighed and said "been there, done that...ahem, Pantheon..."

Is our Age so different, has our humanity "evolved" in such a way as to render us more foreign to the Ancients than were the Moors or the Ethiopians? Are we not still roughly the same size and shape, do we not long for Beauty and pray for Eternal Life? Are car accidents more tragic than boating accidents? Did a mother's love or a flower's beauty "improve" with the advent of the steam engine? Do you never lie awake at night? Are you not enthralled by a sunset?

You fear the jive of pretending...you are afraid that Nashvillians, if committed to a Renaissance in more than just urban land use, will be living in a classically-themed fantasy world where only echoes are heard. Well, it seems to me that the last century of "Modernity" has indulged in a little fakery, too. Pretend that you are a pure race, evolved and progressed higher than others, and crush or enslave your inferiors. Pretend that you are ushering in a technological Paradise, where human nature can be made subservient to designed homogenity and the Proletariat will stop fighting and cheating as soon as the wealth is redistributed and then erased. Pretend every problem caused by technology will be solved by a future technology, like flying cars or hydrogen motors. Pretend that the wisdom of thousands of generations who have come before you, and broken the soil before you, have had absolutely nothing enduring to say, and that the drawing board is best wiped clean so that we can indulge our impulses with random sensual experimentation, conducted at the expense of our "ignorant" and "tradition-enslaved" communities. The avant-garde, that militant art brigade, pretended to be the shock troops of world revolution--but they were like monkeys with fingerpaint, in the dark, with a limited supply of oxygen.

The commitment to a "contemporary" architecture with no use for tradition is dependent on a continuation of the greatest episode of denial in the history of architecture: We don't need you, grandfather!

"Go the 'old folks' home and stay there--I have my Rolls and my iPod and my architecture "program" and my Papa John's. Piss off, quit telling me to brush my teeth or to learn to read, to bathe or to refridgerate my meat, to burn typhoid sheets or to avoid eating lead. You know nothing! I will craft a world in which you did not ever exist."

You Moderns are so afraid of falling off the "cutting edge" that you will go great lengths to keep the make-believe rolling--perhaps the most tragic and obvious episode in self-delusion being that you are still on the "cutting edge" at all. Guess what: in one of reality's great ironies, it is "cutting edge" to stop worrying about being "cutting edge". How long can this go on? We will implode. Contemporary architecture stops being "contemporary" the day after it is built. From whence does it derive its merit then?

History may not be cyclical, CDKoellein, but without the wisdom of the Ancients, your mistakes sure will be. Nashville's founding fathers sure saw the value in learning from history, and for finding Order in Chaos...but the Athens of the South was itself nearly thrown in the trash by you bloody Moderns and your parking. My intelligent friend, you have committed to a return to classical urban design in more ways than you are willing to admit. Let's put our suits on and confess we need to take a second look at that Alberti book, shall we?

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NT, my hyper-intelligent friend, you seem not to make allowances for interpretive change. An interpretation of architecture in one era is not necessarily the one shared by a later era in the same way that a swastika was once understood as a symbol of good fortune and is now a symbol of hatred. Also, the flush toilet was once understood as a wonder of technological progress but is now a rather mundane part of our lives. (That is not to say that we should stop inventing new things like flush toilets simply because their novelty will one day wear off...like "dated" architecture.)

And, by the way, I am arguing from the point of view that the audience of the architectural message includes the 99.4 % of people not educationally or intellectually equipped to dredge up the finer points of ancient philosophy to interpret the buildings they see, i.e. everyday users of the built environment.

Does architectural style carry with it its message over time? More often than not, I think the answer is no. The fascist classicism, albeit tarted up and bloated, did not carry with it all of the Greek ideals and was not intended to convey to its audience a message of Platonic thought. It was about dominance, plain and simple, no matter whether you stamp your feet and get blue in the face trying to argue it away.

Architectural messages also depend greatly on context, as no urban building or style exists in a vacuum. A classical building in the La Defense district would say something quite different from a classical building in Athens. Signature Tower's message would change from Nashville to New York to Sienna if you could cart it around all over the globe. Imagine Ghery's Bilbao next to Meier's Getty. That would be a weird pairing and would say something strange. Those buildings only have the 'right message' in the context for which they were designed.

Are there golden proportions in nature? I am not honestly sure, though I find the idea very intriguing and would like to learn far more about it. Nautilus shells and snowflakes are certainly examples of beautiful things (and ones I hear of repeatedly to substantiate the existence of golden proportions), but so are trees and rocks and clouds and mountains and animals of various sizes and shapes and fluidities and textures that I cannot help but wonder if we are selectively defining the proportions of beauty to suit our notions of the ideal. Mind you, I believe fervently in the intelligent design of the world we live in (perhaps a matter for discussion on naturalistbaloneyplanet.org), but I simply do not buy that we are divinely mandated to use architecture to reflect upon snowflakes and shells. That requires a logical leap.

As it applies to Nashville, I interpret classical architecture in the same way that I interpret guitar motifs: as nothing greater than the upholstery of our city in moniker-based kitsch. It is as though we sustain ourselves as 'Music City' less because we are a center of the music industry than because we have flung images of guitars all over town, e.g. on restaurant signage, in sidewalks, on t-shirts, and even in swimming pool shapes. The same is true of our Greekish architecture. It is not our culture and educational prowess that sustain our reputation as the Athens of the South or of the West or of Middle Tennessee. Rather, it is that we build things with ionic columns and friezes to as if to visibly and dogmatically insist upon our identity regardless of the evidence to support it. You can imagine the comical result if the Big Apple or Beantown employed this sort of imagery.

To express that we live in the Western tradition, I completely reject the notion that we must therefore build things like 'they' built them. It's like saying we must continue writing all of our contemporary literature on scrolls or stone tablets or using hieroglyphs. Or that we all have to wear disc-shaped hats and tapered beards if we agree with Confucian philosophy. Might it not be more important to actually rescue the culture from its postmodern myths and chaos than to merely build replicas of temples pretending that we already have? Does present-day classical architecture represent Plato's thought or the very different musings of Aristotle? If Plato's, I'd be slightly more inclined to accept it, but how am I to know? You see the quagmire, but I am also not willing to go to the extreme that architecture can have no message at all, the result being that we merely argue about which building is the most prettiest.

The reason I espouse contemporary architecture (and, by the way, I have admittedly been employing the term 'modern' somewhat recklessly as a synonym for 'contemporary') is not because I secretly hope someone among the 99.4 % will misguidedly espouse Leninist philosophy as a result of having seen it. Rather, it is because new buildings can very rarely showcase classical architecture and be honest about things like the cost of land and building materials, about technological progress, about personal taste, about product markets, about zoning policy, about property rights, and about all of the wonderful new inventions affecting buildings we humans have come up with since the time of the Greeks (or the Ethiopians or Mycenaeans, if you prefer): mass-producible glass, synthetic paneling, steel, air conditioning, and elevators to name a few. Happily, we are no longer limited to stone, adobe and thatch. Even with the utmost authenticity we could muster, we could not build buildings today like the ancients built them; we could only make them look like we had, and then only with maximum care in craftsmanship. More often than not, our contemporary attempts at classical or gothic or Queen Anne look laughably unlike the original, and not in a cool, reinterpretive sort of way.

The message of Nashville's contemporary buildings should be as follows: we are progressive and ambitious, we are socially and aesthetically diverse, we are a city with a unique past but we also take part in an increasingly global economy, we exist during the early part of the 21st Century (a specific point on the timeline of history), we foster the activity of urbanity, and we are authentic.

One clarification: When you speak about the architectural expressions of the noble Western philosophy of Nashville's founders, I assume you are not referring to the log assemblages on the riverbank as adeptly recaptured in our very own Fort Nashboroughland?

NT, there is much in your last message I am not responding to, either because I can't keep up with all of it or because I am ready make better use of my day, so I am hoping in the future we can feel free to debate less comprehensively and cumbersomely and deal with finer points in more digestible bites. Also, smaller points of discussion might permit us to include others who want to share viewpoints on the subject. With respect and near-awe.

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Are there golden proportions in nature? I am not honestly sure, though I find the idea very intriguing and would like to learn far more about it. Nautilus shells and snowflakes are certainly examples of beautiful things (and ones I hear of repeatedly to substantiate the existence of golden proportions), but so are trees and rocks and clouds and mountains and animals of various sizes and shapes and fluidities and textures that I cannot help but wonder if we are selectively defining the proportions of beauty to suit our notions of the ideal. Mind you, I believe fervently in the intelligent design of the world we live in (perhaps a matter for discussion on naturalistbaloneyplanet.org), but I simply do not buy that we are divinely mandated to use architecture to reflect upon snowflakes and shells. That requires a logical leap.

The Divine Proportion is found everywhere in the universe, and perhaps most powerfully in Nature. The nautilus shell was a favorite of the Greeks--but let us not forget flowers, the patterns in leaves, seed patterns in fruit, the human body, wind patterns in hurricanes, the human inner ear--the list goes on and on. It is literally all around you, even as you read this...it is found in music and it is in the womb. Humans have a long and laborous understanding of it--the Divine Proportion has been, not surprisingly, intimately linked with the search for God. It was used not only to design the Parthenon, but also to build the Great Pyramids at Giza, and the Ark of the Covenant as reported in the Hebrew Scriptures.

It is true, as you have said, that snowflakes and seashells are merely two among many beautiful things. Perhaps mountains, trees, and coral reefs are equally beautiful--and completely unordered? This is the rub: while a snow bank may have been formed in some part by Chaos, each individual snowflake, upon close observation, reflects pure mathematical Order. While a tree may be formed by thousands of random factors, truly it too has something strangely wonderful and logical going on within its deepest, most elemental parts: Order. Much of Nature, perhaps all of it, functions perfectly (indeed, marvelously) in a world of apparent chaos, but begins and ends in perfect Order, reflected in the Divine Proportion. Even our DNA adheres to it. We can ignore it, or even neglect to see it...and many do...but we cannot escape it. And what of its role in architecture? I will come to that. But first:

It is amazing that snowflakes, mineral deposits, plants, and human beings all have this special and profound relationship, tying us so closely with each other, and ultimately with the entire universe. And yet still we are all utterly unique, thanks to the chaos that brushes over the Divine Proportion and infuses it with limitless possibilities! Surely if the human face can be formed (and more perfectly formed, as we all know) using these fundamental principles found in Nature--and surely if each human face may still be so special, so significant and singular even among the multitudes--surely our Urban Design and Architecture can reflect the Divine Proportion and not be derivative or repetitive, can it not? Order, combined with limitless possibility, seems too good a deal to refuse! Yet for the past century or so, we have actively discarded it, content with the sweaty and malformed theory that technology has severed us from Nature and the Divine Proportion itself. The Modernists quashed this for a reason, my friend--they needed a new God, a new Order...that of The Machine.

But when people use the Divine Proportion in architecture and music, it is pleasing to the human eye and ear--period. How can this be? Is it truly so objective? Well, some things are universal: do we not all need oxygen, and do we not all long for affection? Take it from there. The Divine Proportion is pleasing to us because we ourselves are made of the Divine Proportion, of course! It lines up, it fits, it addresses our bodies and our sense of place, our eyes and our spirits.

Of course, there must be tension, there must be creativity--there must be some level of Chaos in order to permit freedom within Order--but we need both, we need the wisdom of the Ages and we need the explosive energy of youthful passion--we need exhuberant new expression and simultaneous acceptance of the Divine. The alternative is our current scheme: the rampant nonsense and self-indulgence of ignorant experimentalism becomes a deconstructed postmodern tyranny of isolation and selfishness. Our cities don't work--our buildings are ugly and meaningless. The Machine must fall! Or will Nashville!

Probably one or two among the original Nashvillians had done enough reading or studying to know the depth of the well from which they were drawing when they founded their town and shortly thereafter aspired to create "The Athens of the South". William Strickland, architect of the State Capitol and the Downtown Presbyterian Church, probably knew all this stuff...but the eclecticism of the age overwhelmed some of his talents. One must build for clients, after all. But I do not want to mislead--to fight for "The Athens of the South" was to fight for Truth, Beauty, and the Virtue that makes both of them real. The Divine Proportion is exactly that place where Truth and Beauty are the same--and it is Virtuous to follow it.

I hope I have made the case that my argument for a return to Classicism in Nashville has firmer foundations than simply personal preference. For me, this is about Truth and Beauty--and the Modernists, including their aimless and agenda-weary descendants, will never cite either as a reason against the Classical. This is because they know a traditional (at least in some sense), Divinely-Proportioned architecture is the only option should Truth or Beauty even be acknowledged to exist. Until then, we will hear a lot about "clean", "cutting-edge", "challenging", "nice lines"--but forget Truth and Beauty. Nashville will have none of it until we self-induce Gropius out of our system and turn back to the oak leaf and the nautilus shell. When this happens, we will have the added bonus of everyone actually really liking our buildings, and they will be judged by their uniqueness and beauty, rather than their uniqueness, or sheer size, alone.

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Of course, there must be tension, there must be creativity--there must be some level of Chaos in order to permit freedom within Order--but we need both, we need the wisdom of the Ages and we need the explosive energy of youthful passion--we need exhuberant new expression and simultaneous acceptance of the Divine. The alternative is our current scheme: the rampant nonsense and self-indulgence of ignorant experimentalism becomes a deconstructed postmodern tyranny of isolation and selfishness. Our cities don't work--our buildings are ugly and meaningless. The Machine must fall! Or will Nashville!

When I read something like this, I think, "What planet are you living on?"

Thank God I don't feel the same way towards current state of modern architecture as you. Crazy as it must seem to you, I actually love much of what is being designed today. As an Industrial Engineer, I love to see architecture which is artistic, yet highly functional, especially when cost is considered. Whether you like it or not, cost (i. e. return on investment) is and forever will be the single most important driving force in architectural design.

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:rofl: Right on Hank, right on. In the meantime, I'm not touching this one with a thousand foot supertall. Well, maybe if they were typing with English accents. :whistling:

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I think this is a great idea for a thread. Whilethese discussions of theory can be tedious and "academic" to some other folks, it is easy enough to skip over them and they dobelong here, since architecture and design are the key tools that are used to make cities, which is what interests all of us.

At this late hour I'm not sure I can do justice to NT's extensive comments. But I can offer a few tenative observations from my perspective (that of an interested amateur, merely, and lover of urban life). Your comments on Nashville's origins are right on in that classical architecture was indeed viewed by the founders as a physical expression of the city's high (some might say preposterous--but thank goodness for people with the courage to be so preposterous) aspirations. The architecture employed in the Capitol was a statement that we here, here on what was at the time only one generation removed from being the very edge of civilization, were worthy inheritors of something ageless and meaningful. This is architecture serving its highest purpose in an urban setting--a functional structure that also embodies the aspirations of the community while striving to be--and largely suceeding in being--"beautiful".

Insofar as your argument is that Le Corbusier and his ilk were wrong in wanting to sweep away everything that came before them (into the dustbin of history, if you will)--well, of course they were! As I think I've said before, I am not and never have been a member of the Modernist Party. But I also cannot allow what is essentially an ideological framework to divide all architecture into "acceptable" and "unacceptable." I realize that we need some way to judge relative merit, but simply saying "classicism" is "acceptable" and "modernism" is "unacceptable" seems to me a simplistic and unecessarily limiting approach. It is also an approoach that doesn't do justice to what I believe is the plain truth: there are beautiful Modern buildings. There may be more ugly ones than beautiful ones, but some of them are striking indeed. And some are striking not in spite of but at least partly because of their "renegade" relationship to the more traditional forms around them in the city. As merely an amateur I haven't thought enough about it yet to come up with what my architectural credo really is, but I know enough to feel compelled to jump to the defense of good modernism.

The enemy, I think, is not Modern Architecture, or Classical Architecture, but Bad Architecture.

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Here's one for you guys. This is the "Volkshalle", Hitlers, Peoples Hall. This would have satisfied everyone. It has a hideous classical look and was also 1000 foot tall. This is classical and tall to both extremes. Hitler designed this one himself and was based on the design of the Pantheon.

We may be able to use in in SOBRO as the new CC. They say you could get 180,000 people in the main hall.

post-4789-1155639581_thumb.jpg

post-4789-1155639581_thumb.jpg

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Here's one for you guys. This is the "Volkshalle", Hitlers, Peoples Hall. This would have satisfied everyone. It has a hideous classical look and was also 1000 foot tall. This is classical and tall to both extremes. Hitler designed this one himself and was based on the design of the Pantheon.

We may be able to use in in SOBRO as the new CC. They say you could get 180,000 people in the main hall.

post-4789-1155639581_thumb.jpg

This hilarious monstrosity is partially a mangled collection of authority-bearing masterpieces--part Parthenon, part Louvre, part St. Peter's--an assortment of insulted gems that are all definitely classical in their natural habitats, but here have been distorted, train-wrecked, put through the meat grinder--and finally they have come out as a giant "Aryan" Stupa designed to be visible from Venus. What is a Stupa, and why is it here, you ask? Well, I'll tell you:

A Stupa is a Buddhist shrine...its ancient form is inherited from the burial mounds used to exalt the Buddha's collection of scattered relics. Buddhists circumambulate them and contemplate. Hitler believed that the Germans were pure descendants of the great Aryan Race--a race that supposedly emerged from the Caucusus region millenia ago, fathered Persia, knocked India around--produced the Buddha--and then went to Europe where they became blonde and large-breasted. Thus, vo

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A Stupa is a Buddhist shrine...its ancient form is inherited from the burial mounds used to exalt the Buddha's collection of scattered relics. Buddhists circumambulate them and contemplate. Hitler believed that the Germans were pure descendants of the great Aryan Race--a race that supposedly emerged from the Caucusus region millenia ago, fathered Persia, knocked India around--produced the Buddha--and then went to Europe where they became blonde and large-breasted. Thus, vo

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NT,

Based on your post over at Nashville Charrette, I gather you are getting antsy for a reply. I cannot argue against your position about the existence of divine proportions ubiquitously evident throughout the universe, and wouldn't want to, as I presume the existence of Order in all of my philosophy. Though, I would like to have a definition of 'divine proportions,' as I am still not sure what they are or how you suppose that they are noticed.

If structures as distinct as the Parthenon and the Pyramids of Giza (both of which I have been fortunate enough to see up close and personal....I mean the Greek version of the Parthenon, though I live but a few blocks from the Nashville copy) employ the divine proportions, then I can only suppose that within that very liberal range of architectural options there is room for a lot of 'contemporary' design. Memphis, TN, built a pyramid, too, you know. Made it out of glass. Originally played basketball in there, but now it hosts gala events like flea markets and road shows. Is that building classically proportioned and therefore good? If so, then uh, well...I think you are going to find that the guys in the white coats are really nice people...and here to help you.

If the objective measure is whether or not something is 'beautiful'...and this is not a concession that beauty is that easily objectified....then explain why I find the CalTrans building beautiful. Or the Hancock Tower or the Getty or most of Norman Foster's work. Do all of the multitudes of other contemporary-ists and I have freakishly impaired aesthetic judgment, anomalies in the hyperobjective world of design appreciation? Or do you think that we are lying about what we find beautiful?

I am going to posit, based on your last message, that much of the contemporary architecture that I like reflects the golden standards found in nature more often than you would care to readily admit. It just isn't baubled as much and doesn't 'harken back' as overtly as your favorites do.

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NT,

Based on your post over at Nashville Charrette, I gather you are getting antsy for a reply. I cannot argue against your position about the existence of divine proportions ubiquitously evident throughout the universe, and wouldn't want to, as I presume the existence of Order in all of my philosophy. Though, I would like to have a definition of 'divine proportions,' as I am still not sure what they are or how you suppose that they are noticed.

If structures as distinct as the Parthenon and the Pyramids of Giza (both of which I have been fortunate enough to see up close and personal....I mean the Greek version of the Parthenon, though I live but a few blocks from the Nashville copy) employ the divine proportions, then I can only suppose that within that very liberal range of architectural options there is room for a lot of 'contemporary' design. Memphis, TN, built a pyramid, too, you know. Made it out of glass. Originally played basketball in there, but now it hosts gala events like flea markets and road shows. Is that building classically proportioned and therefore good? If so, then uh, well...I think you are going to find that the guys in the white coats are really nice people...and here to help you.

If the objective measure is whether or not something is 'beautiful'...and this is not a concession that beauty is that easily objectified....then explain why I find the CalTrans building beautiful. Or the Hancock Tower or the Getty or most of Norman Foster's work. Do all of the multitudes of other contemporary-ists and I have freakishly impaired aesthetic judgment, anomalies in the hyperobjective world of design appreciation? Or do you think that we are lying about what we find beautiful?

I am going to posit, based on your last message, that much of the contemporary architecture that I like reflects the golden standards found in nature more often than you would care to readily admit. It just isn't baubled as much and doesn't 'harken back' as overtly as your favorites do.

There are certain problems with language that will, if we are not careful, render us all incapable of meaningful exchange. Words have to mean something in order to be useful, and as the post-modern world we dwell upon continues to spin off into the relativist abyss of over-abstraction and psychomasturbation, we are beginning to find that words which once meant one thing now mean another, or even multiple things, or all things, and eventually nothing.

"Beauty" is such a word. People have argued over its meaning for millenia, and rightfully so, but never before has it been so commonly abused. A generation or two stopped using it completely, and now our generation is so confused by its meaning that we throw it at anything we like just to feel sensitive and good-natured. It might be helpful to know that a real consensus has formed now and again among men and women, regarding the highest meaning of the word "beauty", that can perhaps best be summed up by a loosely quoted Alberti:

"Beauty is that state of being in which nothing could be added, nor subtracted, save to the detriment of the object in question."

Harmony, perfection, the ideal--this definition bears with it certain implications. In the Platonic sense, it more or less means that perfect beauty is for us--on this world, at least--unattainable. We can strive for it, and approximate it, and reach with all of our hearts and souls and minds towards its accomplishment, but we will never quite make it. This is because we, ourselves, are imperfect beings. But in the reaching, in the striving, we nourish and exercise that within us which was designed to long for perfection, for the Divine. We become more man, less animal, and our souls become more susceptible to that awakening which we are all capable of should we choose it.

I have tried to give you a definition of beauty, and also a justification for its pursuit (they are linked), that perhaps will explain why I believe the CalTrans building is not beautiful--though I do not believe I need to defend the latter statement, because the building was never meant to be beautiful. Cutting-edge, clean, honest, impressive, sublime, terrifying, maybe...but beautiful it is not, through no fault of its own. That simply was not on the agenda. You are being na

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Well, okay then. I will not use the word 'Beauty' for my arguments. I will stick to 'beauty.' Alberti and I must not have the same edition of Funk and Wagnalls. What I am trying to figure out is how you explain that the CalTrans Building is pleasing to the eye (or at least to my eye, and to the eyes of all the readers of magazines and product-hockers that photograph it). Probably not the best possible example to make my case, but I will stick with it. I think there is far more to beauty, or 'visual likeableness' if you prefer, than a ratio of this to that.

I would like to know what those numbers are, by the way, and how I can find them in the Parthenon and the Giza Pyramids. Is it true in your understanding that the closer to the proper ratio, the closer to Beauty and the Divine and the further away, the closer to Ugly? Again, I am not trying to undermine your basic argument, but I think it is incomplete and unfairly disallows contemporary design, which probably frequently employs those ratios. I recognize that, to a near-provable degree, Symphony Pathetique is more pleasant to listen to than fingernails on a blackboard and that tulips are prettier than chewed gum. But for some reason, I like to look at modern buildings more than non-modern ones, and I am seeking an explanation for how that is possible in your argument. Is there such a field as architectural psychology?

I am glad to hear you say that you like 'good contemporary' better than something else. It reflects that, at least, you don't believe me and my modernist friends to be at the very bottom of the scale. I do wonder how to determine that clean, honest, and sublime are lesser virtues than beauty? I was raised on the belief that honesty, for one, was a pretty fundamental indicator of goodness. That's why I insist upon it in buildings I like.

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I generally prefer good Modern design to bad classicism, Mr. Koellein, but I prefer good classicsm to good Modern/Contemporary, and bad classicism to bad Modern/Contemporary.

Aha! This is a concession I've been hoping for for some time. Although doesn't this undermine the argument that Modernism is inherently "bad" and to be stomped out of existence? (That may not be your argument, but it's hard to see how your worldview leaves any room for anyone to aspire to build any Modern structures--at best they will succeed only in creating something that is inherently second rate and inferior.) It seems to me that if you acknowledge that some Modernist buildings are better than some Classical buildings you have started down a slippery slope towards acknowledging that there is at least some worth to the Modernist movement.

CDkeoellin makes the point (more eloquently and precisely than I have been able to do) that some Modern and contemporary buildings are, to try to avoid using a word subject to immediate deconstruction, "pleasing to the eye. " The Getty complex, which he mentions, is a good example. It is pleasing--and not just because of the views. I have previously mentioned Lever House. I find that to be bea....pleasing to the eye, whatever its proportions and whether or not it evokes or emulates an ancient temple or other monument of the past. Am I just advocating a subjective aesthetic? I don't think so. I just haven't spent enough time to come up with a way to explain the differences. But the fact that some Modern structures are, clearly, so pleasing to the eye--or at least to myeye, and a few other eyes, suggests to me there are some real difficulties with your insistence that Modern architecture is inherently inferior

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FYI... the Divine Proportion ..... aka Golden Ratio, PHI, etc, etc.... and a big part of the book the Da Vinci Code :D

That Wikipedia entry sure has a lot of good intro information. It is, unfortunately, a little confused about the Egyptian stuff--there is good evidence that they knew about the Divine Proportion, and also the Babylonians, though the Greeks were the first to write it down. The Greeks were the first to write a lot of things down...and thanks to the medieval Arabs and their prolific libraries/copy houses, we still have a lot of it.

Thanks, Jice! This was helpful.

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Well, okay then. I will not use the word 'Beauty' for my arguments. I will stick to 'beauty.' Alberti and I must not have the same edition of Funk and Wagnalls. What I am trying to figure out is how you explain that the CalTrans Building is pleasing to the eye (or at least to my eye, and to the eyes of all the readers of magazines and product-hockers that photograph it). Probably not the best possible example to make my case, but I will stick with it. I think there is far more to beauty, or 'visual likeableness' if you prefer, than a ratio of this to that.

I would like to know what those numbers are, by the way, and how I can find them in the Parthenon and the Giza Pyramids. Is it true in your understanding that the closer to the proper ratio, the closer to Beauty and the Divine and the further away, the closer to Ugly? Again, I am not trying to undermine your basic argument, but I think it is incomplete and unfairly disallows contemporary design, which probably frequently employs those ratios. I recognize that, to a near-provable degree, Symphony Pathetique is more pleasant to listen to than fingernails on a blackboard and that tulips are prettier than chewed gum. But for some reason, I like to look at modern buildings more than non-modern ones, and I am seeking an explanation for how that is possible in your argument. Is there such a field as architectural psychology?

I am glad to hear you say that you like 'good contemporary' better than something else. It reflects that, at least, you don't believe me and my modernist friends to be at the very bottom of the scale. I do wonder how to determine that clean, honest, and sublime are lesser virtues than beauty? I was raised on the belief that honesty, for one, was a pretty fundamental indicator of goodness. That's why I insist upon it in buildings I like.

I hope, Mr. Koellein, that while the Wikipedia entry regarding the Divine Proportion was a little disjointed and inconsistant, the basic explanations sufficed to put the numbers in place. In regards to your other statements:

I don't think that following the Divine Proportion alone will produce works of genius, anymore than I think sticking to a healthy balance of the food groups will automatically produce a delicious, or even tolerable, meal--though it will go a long way to help make a nutritious one. I believe that the Divine Proportion is a handy and convenient tool--it explains why certain things look and sound lovely to human beings, and explains why certain things look or sound hideous or unpleasant to human beings. The numbers themselves have been used to create beauty, and they have also been used adversely to intimidate and harm, and like all things possess the potential for good or evil depending on how they are implemented. As with all powerful tools, and especially those which hint at the Divine, failing to take the Golden Ratio into account is not new or "challenging"--it is merely stupid and amateurish. Even Le Corbusier used it, almost religiously, in his attempts to muster the Divine out of some sort of Primitivism that would help explain God away but bridge the gaps between Mankind's deepest origins and his scientific perfection. Corbu was more classical than we wanted to be, but he would not have admitted it, and he was at it for the wrong reasons.

I don't think you can use the word "beauty" in regards to the CalTrans building simply because I don't think it even qualifies to be judged by such a term, for it is not playing that particular game, and the architectural rationale that formed it is behind me 100%. By calling it beautiful, you are failing to do it justice--by calling it beautiful, you are pointing out its great failure, the fact that it is not more beautiful, given its size and civic importance. If you called it sublime and large, you would be pointing out its successes. All in all, it is a successful building, because it never intended to be beautiful. I don't blame it for failure--I blame it for having the wrong priorities. The aesthetic inspiration in question was not a flower or the human face, it was freeways and machines.

The word "sublime" means, in essense, "terrifying". Well-produced horror movies and gaping chasms are sublime. Skyscrapers are sublime. Sublime is not an accessory to beauty--they are rivals. One must pick. The sublime produces a thrill, a Romantic sensual tingling--Beauty inspires both humility and pride, courage and dignity, virtue and a sense of place...it is intellectual more than it is emotional, though it is also very instinctive and utterly musical. Scary music that is full of spooky--yet totally articifial--tension, vs. beautiful music with flirtateous tension designed to reinforce the beauty...Marilyn Manson vs. Coldplay. Liking both means you don't like one of them deeply enough.

I have caused a bit of a fluff by admitting that I prefer good contemporary architecture to bad classical architecture. Allow me to clarify, at the risk of losing my new-found friends: I prefer the appearance of good contemporary architecture (Renzo Piano) to the appearance of bad classical architecture (First Tennessee Bank on Hillsboro Road)--but because classicism is a design aesthetic that has as one of its defining tenets beauty itself, and because it is not one of your Modern historicist costumed play-actors--it is not a period or "style"--bad classical architecture is technically not classical at all. One thing that people routinely get wrong, through no fault of their own, is they think of classicism as reflective of a "period". Which period? Egyptian? Roman? Medieval Constantinople? Renaissance? Beaux Arts? It has always been, and it will always be. It is a set of guiding principles, applying to urban design and building on all levels and for all peoples. For this reaon, a good or meaningful "contemporary" building is more classical than a bad or meaningless "classical" building, columns notwithstanding. Dude! But I think we should, anyway, use the Divine Proportions, and the rich vocabularly of structural metaphor and timeless detail, passed down from generation to generation until we threw it all away and started making ugly and dysfunctional places worthy of neither our affection nor our respect.

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