|THE RIVERGATE||title page | contents | appendices | cd-book cover|
in the service of politics
by abbye a. gorin
|I.||Cities Shaped By Political Design|
|II.||Chan Chan, Peru (950-1440) A Pre-Columbian Architectural Masterpiece For The Ruling Class|
|III.||Inca Cuzco, A City Plan In The Shape Of A Puma
An Early Social-Psychological Experiment
|IV.||Architectural Forms With Political Dimensions|
|V.||Symbiotics Of Style|
|VI.||Political Propaganda Made By Hand
D. Rivera In Rockefeller Center
|VII.||Vindictive Destruction And City Busting|
|VIII.||Presenting The Louisiana Political Landscape To Posterity|
I. Cities Shaped By Political Design
From the earliest beginnings of urbanism, mankind, architecture, and politics are inextricably linked. In the archaeological remains of pre-history cultures, before the development of a handwriting system, architecture in the service of politics is inscribed on the landscape.
Politicians -- in the distant past, the past within living memory, and the recent past -- have used buildings, city planning, city naming, and city busting to symbolize power and ideology. These icons can be obvious, blatant, subliminal, and even fall into the realm of propaganda. More often than not, the morality and ethics of the political system in control speaks through public architecture.
Throughout time, architecture has consistently been the object of the "grand politician" and the "petty politician" with grand aspirations. Whether politicians destroy or build, the action always equates to power! Labor is always involved! A massive government destruction and/or building program signifies the control of a well organized labor force. A drastic change in building design signals a decided change in political control. Usually the architecture chosen by the politicians for destruction or erection is located on an highly important parcel of land. There is always the opportunity for political patronage when monumental architecture is destroyed and/or erected. The historic record shows a steady fine line, at times overlapping lines, of politics and religion. In any age, to destroy or build is always carried out in the name of progress!
The sampling presented here to illustrate how architecture has served political regimes was selected from my collection of case studies which began years before the Rivergate controversy. Concepts from case studies out of the distant past and the past within living memory have reappeared in the Rivergate story. Many scenes acted out in the New Orleans City Council Chamber appeared to be what one would have expected in a similar chamber in Huey Long's Louisiana (Long, virtual political dictator of Louisisana in the 1930s).
The demise of the Rivergate -- award winning, one-of-a-kind building in excellent condition with an estimated value at the time of demolition of $300 million -- was the work of "the politician." New Orleans has always been a tourist city, but the construction of the Rivergate in the 1960s legitimatized tourism as a prosperous industry. The arguments for the construction of the building were similar to the arguments by those who advocated its destruction.
has taken its place in the long on-going saga of architecture in the service
Common to all great pre-Columbian cultures of Mexico and Peru was a genius for construction. Among the most advanced and sophisticated pre-Columbian Peruvian builders were the Chimú and Inca peoples. The Chimús inhabited the northern Peruvian coastal desert until they were overrun and incorporated into the Inca empire (1440-1532). The fall of the Incas to the Spanish in 1532 marked the end of the pre-Columbian Peruvian builders and the beginning of the shapes of Catholic Spain (1532-1821) in the Andean world. This drastic change in political power produced an entirely different dominating architectural style and different architectural forms as well. Neither the Chimús nor the Incas, nor any of the other pre-Columbian Peruvian cultures, developed a handwriting system, but their building ingenuity and artistic talent tell of their stratified society and their political ambitions.
The remarkable adobe city of Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimú state which at its zenith stretched along the narrow coastal desert for roughly eight hundred miles (from Tumbez in the north to Lima in the south). In this rainless, arid, rocky desert, the political elite developed a high-walled castle form, ten royal precincts in all, which composed the nucleus of the largest city built in ancient Peru.
The monumentality alone of the walled Chan Chan castles, which ranged in size from 105,128 to 264,316 square yards, suggests a high degree of social, economic, and political organization. Size implies a culture not only knowledgeable in construction technology but also in hydrology and the techniques of food production. Without the ability to bring ample water to the desert city and the ability to grow enough food to create surplus stocks, no immense building program would have been possible. In addition, the size of the castles suggests masses of labor under strong political control. These enormous complexes by comparison to the few smaller structures, independent and outside the walled compounds called huacas (religious shrines), suggest that the priestly class had lost ground to a secular class, warriors and state officials, who formed a new upper class core unit.
Unique to Chimú decorative design and used extensively in Chan Chan is the mud plaster frieze. These bold, low reliefs in panels and bands decorated interior castle walls and walls of huacas. In addition to geometric compositions, a stylized design vocabulary developed from forms in the environment, such as coastal birds, fish, and animals. In the case of the Huaca del Dragón near Chan Chan, the mythical dragon like figure probably related to a cult.
cases an allegory, a symbolic narrative, was told in a mud plaster frieze.
The iconography in the allegorical type frieze would have been manipulated
to sustain the reigning political and/or religious philosophy. A rare
circle type frieze found in a castle suggests an astronomical purpose
perhaps used in deciding when to plant and/or harvest crops. These circles
found in a secular structure might indicate a shift in power from the
purview of the priestly class to the realm of the politically elite.
Cuzco was the political and religious capital of the Inca Empire. The government was highly centralized under an absolute rule, and it supported a state religion which it imposed on its provinces. Manuel Chávez Ballón of the National University of Cuzco was the first to observe the ancient city plan in the "puma" shape which he traced through the shape of the surviving Inca city walls. Gasparini and Margolies elaborated on the puma-shape theory and suggested three different possible positions of the puma (Gasparini and Margolies 1980, 48). The head of the puma coincided with the man-made fortress (or ceremonial center) of Saqsaywaman, the tail with the confluence of the two rivers, Tullumayo and Huatanay, and south of these two rivers is the Chunchulmayo River which means "gut river" or the puma's belly. The archaeological evidence is supported by early maps and five eye-witness accounts describing the capital before the great fire of 1535 when the Incas burned their city as the Spanish invaders approached.
Since the feline deity appeared as early as the Cultist period (ca. 850 B.C.) and the frequency of feline features in carvings suggests that the jaguar was a powerful god, there is a strong case for the role Andean mythology played in the shape of ancient Cuzco.
An urban center plan tied to a dominant cultural expression has all the attributes of the Incas' ability to read the psyche of their pre-literate society. The Incas' organizational skills coupled with design, planning, and construction expertise give the "puma" city plan the appearance of an early experiment in applied social psychology. The Incas inscribed on the land a symbiotic perception of power -- the powerful puma and the powerful Inca!
When the Spanish residents rebuilt Cuzco after the great fire of 1535, the city promptly became a city of Spanish type.
The Front Porch Of
The Roman Temple, A Political Stage
Within the temple, Marnas is depicted on the right and his consort Artemis on the left inscribed with "Gaza, Marnas," the name of the city and its god.
It is obvious that the mightiest of both the then-living and the mythological were intentionally united on a single coin. Since the front porch of the Roman temple served a practical purpose -- a political stage for the Emperor -- the coin commemorates the Emperor's visit and perhaps a speech that he delivered to the populace from this sacred precinct. The mighty Hadrian, the holy Temple of Marnas, and the chief god of the city were intentionally united and well executed on a single coin.
The Constantine Atrium,
An Emotionally Charged Space
Eusebius, the Christian historian of the reign of Constantine the Great (c. 274-337; Roman Emperor 306-337), gives a clue to the psychology behind the design of the Constantinian atrium. Eusebius described a propylaeum as the general entrance gates of exquisite workmanship affording passersby, Christian and/or pagan, on the outside, a view of the interior which could not fail to inspire astonishment. The atrium, according to Eusebius, was a space of ground of great extent and open to the pure air of heaven. This space, adorned with a pavement of finely polished stone, was enclosed on three sides with porticoes of great length. When such great care is given to a floor, it is an important space.
The atrium, as it served Constantinian politics to Christianize the pagans (Constantine was the first Roman ruler to be converted to Christianity and the first emperor to rule in the name of Christ), was not the form itself but the function of the form within the complex and the rich web of specific associations that were invoked in the mind of the worshipper. The atrium was a prelude, dependent for its meaning on the dominant facade and entrance to the basilica sanctuary. Although the peristyle surrounding an open court had been commonplace in ancient architecture for centuries, the specific combination of these components -- propylaeum, atrium, basilica -- resulted in a highly charged emotional setting associated with the appearance of the emperor. Constantine's atrium form is rooted in his politics of Christianization. The atrium form was adopted by the church and spread to all corners of Christendom.
Influences Of Constantinian Religious Architecture
In Venice the prototype for St. Mark's Basilica (1063-1085) is said to have been Constantine's Church of the Apostles in Constantinople.
The architectural composition -- St. Mark's, the Ducal Palace (residence of the powerful Doge, chief magistrate in the Republic of Venice), and the Piazza of St. Mark's, the spacious atrium delineated by buildings with colonnaded arcades Venetian style -- makes a strong public statement of political-religious power and wealth. To reinforce and sustain these perceptions, the grand politicians of church and state made St. Mark's and the Ducal Palace, interiors and exteriors, a theater for the arts which created religious and politically charged spaces to interpret the miracles of the Bible, images of the saints, and the joy of victories through paintings, sculpture, glass, mosaic, and furniture. The entire gamut of the visual and decorative arts surrounded and enriched by music -- all within the art of the architect -- created a totally dynamic scene. Ceremonies and pageantry, such as conducted at St. Mark's Basilica, were carried out in the grand religious-political arena of the holy church, the Doge's palace, and the public atrium opened to the heavens above.
But it was in Germany, prior to 1924, that opponents of modern architecture claimed that it fostered the decay of German culture, and the arts including architecture were explained in terms of racial identity. Standardized construction, flat roofs, steel or concrete construction, were predicted to cause unemployment among the building trades.
After 1924, stabilization of the German mark and new political and social policies fostered a public building boom. Creators of the new style received an extraordinarily large amount of work from 1924-1930 as compared to architects working in a similar vein in other countries. The Bauhaus school of design in Weimar, Germany became the center of the development of a new style, the International Style, which in succeeding decades revolutionized architecture throughout the world.
As early as 1920, the once aspiring architect, Adolph Hitler (1889-1945), claimed that since architecture was a vital index of national power and strength, a strong Germany must have a great architecture. In Mein Kampf, 1924, he wrote of the symbolic significance of the urban monumental architecture of antiquity. By 1930, the rising Nazi party recognized the propaganda value of opposition to the new style and used it to play upon the economic distress and the despairing mood of the Great Depression.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, there were systematic propaganda attacks on the creators of the "modern," depriving them of their jobs in schools, building societies, and municipal governments. The Bauhaus was the first target of the purges. A few defenders of the new style appealed to the new regime. There were articles in Berlin's Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung and radical architectural journals; an exhibition at the University of Berlin by the National Socialist Students' League; and letters to the newspaper condemned "the erection of historicism into a dogma as the work of obscurantists who don't even know enough to understand what they don't understand" (Lane 1985, 178).
From 1933 onward, Hitler took the lead in emphasizing the importance of architecture to the state. To him art and politics were essentially the same, and architecture was better suited than any other art form to express national greatness and power. Hitler admired Greek and Roman art and architecture, and to him "heroic" architecture meant monumental in scale.
Hitler himself commissioned a number of the regime's most important projects: the party buildings and the House of German Art in Munich, a new chancellery in Berlin, and a complex of parade grounds and assembly halls for the Party Congresses in Nürnberg. Planned by his personal architects under his supervision, these large scale buildings were carried out in a modernized neo-classical style. These buildings were only a small proportion of the total official construction projects. Several leadership schools and about a hundred local party office buildings and community centers departed from monumental neo-classicism and were designed to appeal to the nationalist sentiment associated with the German middle ages. They revived the Gothic style and military architecture of the medieval fortress and rural and regional middle ages motifs which fitted into party propaganda about "blood and soil."
What differentiates the development of Nazi architecture from the rest of European architectural history is the degree of ideological significance attached to it by Nazi leaders and the intensity of the political propaganda which surrounded it (Lane 1985, 216).
In western avant-garde thought, Modernism was a new art for a new age, but the cultural policy of the Soviet Union in the Stalin Era condemned Modernism as cosmopolitan and imperialistic. Socialist Realism was the official Communist architectural style, and it was the standard by which architectural beauty must be judged. Socialist Realism style prevailed in the new architecture in the cities of the people's democracies: the DDR (German Democratic Republic, East Germany), Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. The Soviet Union provided the models.
Socialist Realism as an architectural style is characterized by monumentality, austerity, verticality, symmetry, and neo-classical aesthetics. The two fundamental principles of the style -- realism and tradition -- became part of the iconographic rhetoric of the Cult of Stalin. The first implementation of this doctrine into the cities of the people's democracies was the erection of monuments to the victorious Soviet army. The political message in stone and bronze: Soviet influence was to endure.
The war memorials honoring the Soviet army were part of the invention of a new tradition -- socialist in content, nationalist in form. War memorials provided the venue to show strength and power. The Lenin Mausoleum, constructed on the most monumental of all Soviet public spaces, Red Square in Moscow, legitimatized the political system.
The vertical monumentality of Stalin's high-rise buildings embodied the upward force of Soviet society.
Most building assignments were of a practical nature: housing, offices, factories. Architects in the Soviet Union had to represent and make plain a new social system whose objective was "to build socialism." Building was a picture of politics. In the eyes of many people, Modernism was not strong enough to meet the demands of political language. Plus, the revolutionary aesthetic vocabulary of Modern architecture required revolutionary technology in a country where glass, steel, and skilled labor were in short supply.
The first big example of the new socialist monumentality -- something that would touch the lives of the masses daily -- was the Moscow underground rail system (the initial stage opened in 1935). Canals, power stations, dams, steelworks, the heavy-engineering projects all ideologically symbolized industrialization of the country, and the transformation of the economic base at the same time created jobs.
the Nazi and Stalin Eras classicism was the nucleus of the academic aesthetic.
The cultural policy makers associated the classical style with periods
of cultural greatness, and the symbiotics projected played a vital role
in the ideological-political facade. Technical developments were concentrated
on heavy industry or military purposes. In both regimes media coverage
was essential to the propaganda machine -- from the ground breaking ceremonies
to the official openings of monumental projects.
Nelson Rockefeller was called in to patch up the matter with the artist who was foisted on the management. Rockefeller wrote Rivera a letter requesting that he relent his Communist statement and substitute the face of some unknown man where Lenin's face appeared.
Rivera refused Rockefeller's request contending that the head of Lenin was included, in abstract representation, in the original sketch and in lines drawn on the wall at the beginning of the work. Rivera's solution to the problem was to change the sector of the mural which shows society people playing bridge and dancing and put in its place a figure of some great American historical leader such as Lincoln.
In spite of demonstrators demanding that Rivera's mural be saved from capitalist destruction and the debate on freedom of expression, the Rockefeller Center management held firm that Rivera was contractually obligated to fulfill his approved submitted sketch and synopsis for the sum of $21,000. On 10 May 1933 Rivera was paid in full and dismissed.
The mural remained a political issue. When the RCA Building opened in May 1933, the mural was hidden behind a canvas. For nine months the Rockefellers and the center's management contemplated the fresco's fate. They agreed to move it intact to the Museum of Modern Art, but the fresco was considered too fragile to survive a transfer. In February 1934, Rivera's mural was destroyed.
The celebrated Mexican was an artist-politician whose rhetoric was bold, colorful shapes skillfully positioned to project the modern world as he perceived converging social ills and technology. As many politicians do, he pushed his agenda to the edge -- in the case of Rockefeller Center -- over the edge. Rivera understood the power of art as a tool of mass communication. Public spaces in public architecture was his venue, a lesson he had learned well from his anonymous pre-Columbian muralist ancestors, the inventors of the Mexican mural and masters of propaganda made by hand!
Diego Rivera replicated his "Man At The Crossroads" in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, 1934.
When people clash in armed conflict, cultural heritage can become a pawn. To destroy cultural heritage becomes a way to demoralize and defeat. Even when cultural objects or places of significance are not specifically targeted for destruction, they can be damaged or obliterated because they stood in the way of some military objective. The cases of Yuanming Yuan and Dresden show the hard realities of architecture in the service of politics -- at war.
The Case Of Yuanming
In 1785, Yuanming Yuan experienced the development of an architectural extravaganza that vied with royal European gardens. The Emperor Ch'ien Lung commissioned the Italian Jesuit, Castiglione, who had been employed by the court, to draw plans for a baroque garden with fountains and paths in the grand European manner. Another European missionary, Father Benoit, skilled in mathematics and hydraulics, designed the mechanical devices to operate the fountains. The collaboration resulted in a Chinese Versailles.
At the close of the second Opium War in 1860, a war that was initiated by a European drive for increased China trade and diplomatic equality, a detachment of French and British troops entered Yuanming Yuan, sacked and looted imperial collections, burned and destroyed almost two-thirds of the three thousand buildings on this sixty thousand acres of water-gardens. This action was ordered in retaliation to Chinese tortures committed against British prisoners of war. The Anglo-French destroyed fine architecture to disgrace and humiliate ruling Chinese politicians and their policies.
The Case Of Dresden
Germany unconditionally surrendered on 7 May.
The mass destruction of Dresden remains one of the most controversial episodes in the air offensive against Germany. Winston Churchill went so far as to comment to the British Chiefs of Staff that "the destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing" (Dear 1995, 312).
Culture, A Pawn In War
The Louisiana State
With his control over the legislature, Long steered through laws that transferred powers from city to state offices; statutes were adopted which stripped the city of its taxing powers; the state took over election functions; and Long created a bond and tax board empowered to handle municipal finances. The latter sent New Orleans into virtual bankruptcy; Mayor T. Semmes Walmsley was reduced to a figurehead. Long made himself the Architect Selection Board, too. During the Great Depression, except for Huey Long's "hand picked" projects, building in Louisiana came to a virtual standstill; unemployment statewide was at wholesale level. The biggest and most dynamic of all of Huey Long's construction projects was the monumental monument that the "Kingfish," a nickname he liked to be called (taken from the radio program "Amos 'n' Andy"), built to himself -- a new Louisiana State Capitol!
Huey Long never cared for the Old State Capitol, an 1849 Gothic Revival building.
Rumor has it that Long wanted to blow up the old building. Possibly his dislike for the Old State Capitol stems from his 1929 impeachment trial which took place in the building.
Two Tall Building
Records Set In The U.S., 1932
It rose to four hundred fifty feet above Baton Rouge. Huey Long's new skyscraper capitol was designed by Weiss, Dreyfous, and Seiferth of New Orleans. Although the building was inspired by the Nebraska State Capitol building, Seiferth recalled that the idea of a skyscraper was entirely Huey Long's (Powell 1996, 47). The thirty-four story tower building in art deco style created a lot of construction jobs and put many artists to work decorating both the exterior and interior. It was a blatant symbol of power to show the masses (in a state where the adult illiteracy was the highest in the nation) what a "great man" could do in economically depressed times. The popular art deco style was a facade to show that Louisiana was in step with the times.
Ironically, on 8 September 1935, in the Great Memorial Hall of the skyscraper capitol that the "Kingfish" built to honor himself, he was assassinated! Huey Pierce Long was buried in front of the Louisiana State Capitol. Facing the Capitol, a larger-than-life statue of the reckless, ruthless, vindictive populist governor was erected over his grave.
The Cabildo, The Great
Fire Of 11 May 1988
Since the original design and layout of New Orleans, the land on which the Cabildo was built was reserved for government use. Cabildo, the Spanish term for city council, is the most important building to survive the period of Spanish domination in Louisiana, 1766-1803. On 11 May 1988, the Cabildo caught fire!
It is believed that the fire started from the torch of a workman who was soldering, working on the gutters as part of an exterior renovation that was underway. In spite of the Fire Department's remarkable job of containing the fire to the Cabildo and saving its closest historic neighbor, the Basilica of St. Louis (also called St. Louis Cathedral), the Cabildo and its museum contents (a State museum since 1911) suffered heavy damage.
The firm of Koch and Wilson Architects of New Orleans was selected by the State Architect Selection Board to restore the building.
After many delays, fund raising sessions, and insurance settlements, the $8 million restoration began. The cupola and the entire third floor that were lost in the fire and the interior, severely damaged by smoke and water, were meticulously restored to their 1966 state with certain exceptions to conform to new building codes and to furnish improvements that the museum director wanted.
On 27 February 1994, after being closed for almost six years, the Cabildo reopened with a public ribbon cutting ceremony; then-Gov. Edwin Edwards cut the ribbon. A temporary stage, set up in front of the Cabildo and the Basilica of St. Louis, was filled with political and religious dignitaries. In all the ceremonial speeches the architects and craftspeople who brought the Cabildo back to life were never even mentioned! The politicos and the religious vied for credit -- the religious who said the prayers to make it happen and the politicos who supplied the money!
The rebirth of the Cabildo -- another example of how architecture intersects with that steady fine line, at times overlapping lines, of politics and religion. The political and religious leaders took full advantage of identifying themselves with a symbol of historic tradition.
A civilization, a nation, or a city is defined by what its architects, artists, and artisans create and leave for future generations. We are only "custodians" of our highest material accomplishments. To destroy fine architecture is in effect to tear down the dreams, beliefs, and achievements in the arts, science, and technology of a generation.
The demise of the Rivergate was the work of the powerful "grand politician" assisted by the "petty politicians" in key positions. Over outraged local public opinion, preservation efforts, and even the opinion of the local Historic District Landmark Commission, a legal entity to advise the City Planning Commission on architectural matters, the politicos pushed and shoved the destruction of the building through a City Hall charade. As each bay of the Rivergate fell, the ugly picture turned into another case study of architecture in the service of politics!