Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wasilla and Werdau

I saw two different photos of important government buildings in the past 24 hours. First, the City Hall in Wasilla, AK (Kunstler's "Eyesore of the Month" last month):

Contrast that beauty to today's featured image on Wikipedia, the town hall in Werdau, Germany:

Speaking beyond the pure architectural merits of each building (if you can say Wasilla's city hall has merits?), I can see two different arguments that might develop about the sociopolitical ramifications of these two buildings:

1. Wasilla's building represents a free-market economy in the context of a limited government. It is humble, blends in, cost little to build, and is not presumptuous enough to place itself at the end of an axis, in a town square, etc. Werdau's building is a symbol for the imperial and local power of the German Empire (in control during its construction). It is a heavy, lavish, and architecturally significant building that dominates its neighbors. It is an expensive building that places itself above the commoners of the town.

2. Wasilla's building does not ask for respect; in fact, it invites disrespect. It looks almost transient, as if it is a temporary site for the city offices while a better building is being built elsewhere. Imagine a seven-year-old Wasillan visiting this place on a field trip - would they have any belief in the merits of good government after visiting it? Would anyone respect the U.S. Senate if it was housed in a building this nondescript? Werdau's building views the government as an important element in the town's cultural fabric and daily life. Here, even visitors would be tempted to step inside, perhaps encountering something about how the government works.

Obviously, the form of government and its actual power in society is not determined by the building in which it is housed, but vice versa. However, shouldn't respect and dignity surround any government? Even the most limited laissez faire government is there for a reason and a purpose, and great care is taken to maintain it by the people. Shouldn't our buildings at least reflect that simple notion?


  1. The thing you have to realize is that governmental architecture itself is so twentieth century, Howard. Like TOTALLY!!11 OMG! We need more glass boxes dedicated to the indulgence of a bunch of dead old men who are even less talented than my crippled right hand!

    Snark aside, you have to realize that the decline of public architecture coincided with the post-war attitude of Americans and development of those suburbs which we've railed against for quite some time. The lack of concern and disregard for the aesthetics of civic architecture began then and there.

    Wasilla City Hall represents, intentionally or not, the cultural ideals and aspirations of its own times. People glorify and embellish their own bathrooms on an opulent scale that would perhaps even be embarrass the Romans yet disregard their own city hall. This turn to the private realm is really has been a long time coming.

    Democratic liberty needs self restraint and letting the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. However, Tocqueville himself believed that freedom and equality can undermine democracy, leading to a restless social dynamic that spawns envy, self-love, and a desire for materialism that is a hallmark of modern American society. This is the price we pay.

    It makes a great bait shop though.