Roman and Williams to Honor the National Civic Art Society on March 10 in NYC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 2, 2016
CONTACT: info@civicart.org or (202) 670-1776
The Fitzroy condo building. Designed by Roman and Williams.
The Fitzroy condo building. Designed by Roman and Williams.
The National Civic Art Society is delighted to announce that on March 10 in New York City, the developers of the new Fitzroy condo building in Chelsea are hosting a party at which the Society will be honored. Roman and Williams – the designers of the Deco-inspired terracotta building, which will be located next to the High Line – chose to make NCAS the recipient of that honor. (You can find a Curbed story on the building, whose slogan is “Bring beauty back,” here.)

Roman and Williams released the following statement:

In celebration of the new Fitzroy Residences, JDS Development Group and Largo Investments have organized an event to honor the design firm Roman and Williams. In the same spirit of civic pride that motivated the creation of the building, the firm suggested a gift to the National Civic Art Society to mark the occasion.

For Stephen Alesch and Robin Standefer – the principals of Roman and Williams – the National Civic Art Society represents an organized entity that has chosen to stand up against the status quo approach to design in the public realm, fighting the battle to liberate us from the restricting myth that the modernist style is the only acceptable “architectural language of our time,” when many people – including Roman and Williams – express their values and now-ness using a traditional, vernacular and adaptive visual language.

According to NCAS president Justin Shubow, “The National Civic Art Society is proud to be recognized by the distinguished firm of Roman and Williams. Their widely acclaimed work demonstrates that traditional, beautiful architecture is alive and well – and highly desirable. They are rebels in defense of tradition who reconcile past and present in exciting and innovative ways.”

 

Posted in architecture, beauty, Modernism, National Civic Art Society | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Delivering Keynote at ICAA-New England Bulfinch Awards in April

On April 23, 2016, I’m going to be delivering the keynote address at the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art-New England’s 2016 Bulfinch Awards. David Brussat announced the winners, which include Robert A.M. Stern Architects, at his blog.

Bulfinch Awards Invitation

Bulfinch Awards Invitation 2

For more information on the Keynote Lecture, please contact David Andreozzi at (401) 245-6800. For more information on the Reception, Dinner and Awards Ceremony Gala, please contact Sally Wilson at (978) 578-7129.


Sponsors:

Platinum Level:
Foster Reeve & Associates, Inc.| Merritt Woodwork | Openings Millwork & LePage Millwork
Payne Bouchier | P.E. Guerin

Gold Level:
Atlantic View Landscape Lighting, Paragon Landscape Design, Perfection Fence
AW Hastings & Co. | Tischler Windows

Silver Level:
Boston Design Guide | Builder+Architect | F.H. Perry Builder
New England Home | New Old House | Northshore Home
Pella | Clem Labine’s Period Homes | Clem Labine’s Traditional Building

Posted in Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, public talks, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, uncategorized | Leave a comment

RealClearPolitics Profile of My Work for the National Civic Art Society

People Who Hate the Eisenhower Memorial

By Matthew Disler – July 19, 2015
RealClearPolitics

Tourists milled around the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial last Friday, snapping photos in front of the 30-foot tall granite statue of the civil rights leader standing, arms folded, facing the Tidal Basin and the Washington Monument. Rapturous visitors wandered along the wall encircling the figure of King emerging from a mountainous slab of rock, engraved with a passage from his “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

Justin Shubow was having none of it.

“I think it’s an embarrassment for numerous reasons,” he stated bluntly, ticking off a litany of criticisms of the monument’s design: it was sculpted by a Chinese artist who didn’t speak English or know much about King; it ignores his religious background; it makes him look too angry. Shubow termed the quotations “second-rate” (“It’s as if you go to the Lincoln Memorial and don’t get the Gettysburg Address”) and noted that King is not wearing his wedding band.

This fierce critic is the president of the National Civic Art Society, an organization with some 100 members that has been at the forefront of the opposition to Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial. The non-profit’s mission states that it is focused on educating the public about the classical tradition in Washington’s memorials and buildings and helping policymakers and planners continue this practice. Shubow and his organization decry the recent series of modernist memorials, which they think is highlighted garishly in famed architect Frank Gehry’s design for the Eisenhower Memorial.

It’s not the only one Justin Shubow disdains. The World War II Memorial? Shubow finds it “reminiscent of the architecture of fascist Italy,” with “Germanic wreaths,” “creepy eagles,” and a pointless fountain.

“It could easily be a Wehrmacht memorial,” he said.

Franklin Roosevelt’s Memorial? “I think it’s defeatist,” Shubow said, later adding, “The focal point [of the central statue] is his little dog. Everyone squats down and takes cutesy photos with it. It’s a piece of kitsch.”

The proposed Eisenhower Memorial, however, currently bears the brunt of his ire. Shubow and his group have become go-to sources for criticisms about the memorial in papers like The Washington PostNew York Times, and The Daily Beast, largely through their sheer doggedness. In 2011, the organization ran a shoestring-budget competition for an alternate to the Gehry design, “to suggest what a classical or traditional alternative might look like,” in Shubow’s words. He started submitting Freedom of Information Act requests about the Eisenhower Memorial Commission’s design competition, run by the General Services Administration, and in 2012 he penned a 154-page report disparaging the Gehry plan, from the design competition process (which critics like the group Right by Ike denounce as closed and unfair) to the ballooning costs for the project. In 2013, he testified against it in a House Committee on Natural Resources subcommittee hearing.

“I think we have been focused and unrelenting, and I think we’ve had an excellent champion with Justin Shubow, who really has been a very capable leader in this endeavor and has been tenacious in his fight,” said Milton Grenfell, a director of NCAS and a Washington, D.C.-based architect. “We’ve sort of moved into de facto leaders.”

The NCAS derides the Gehry memorial as ungainly and ill-befitting the man who led the Allied Forces to victory in Europe in World War II and became the 34th president. The design’s most recent iteration features a 447-foot long, eight-story metal tapestry depicting a landscape in Eisenhower’s hometown of Abilene, Kan., as well as two free-standing columns and a “core” of statues depicting Eisenhower as general, president, and a young man gazing out at his future achievements.

The memorial has changed substantially since it was introduced and given preliminary approval by the Commission of Fine Arts in 2011 (it needs approval from both the CFA and the National Capital Planning Commission before construction starts). Initially, metal tapestries surrounded the memorial’s inner core on three sides; the statues of Eisenhower as general and president were bas-reliefs; and the statue of Eisenhower in the center of the memorial depicted him as a “barefoot boy,” in reference to a speech he gave soon after World War II.

Soon after the design was unveiled, Eisenhower family members began voicing their disapproval. That December, a Washington Post story quoted Susan and Anne Eisenhower, two of Ike’s granddaughters, speaking against Gehry’s proposal. After the piece ran, David Eisenhower—the only member of the family who sat on the Eisenhower Memorial Commission—resigned, explaining that he was concerned about a potential conflict of interest between his position and his new role as chairman of the Eisenhower Foundation (which runs the president’s library and museum).

In June of this year, the House Committee on Appropriations stripped all funding for the commission for the next fiscal year in its Interior-EPA appropriations bill and called for a “reset” on the memorial process, while the Senate committee allotted $1 million. In contrast, the NCPC had said that more than $70 million would be needed this year for construction to start.

“We’re hoping that in the budget compromise, the Senate will side with the House and call for a total reset of the design with an open, democratic competition,” said Shubow. “And that’s going to include a classical design, one that comports with the best of our memorial tradition.”

On July 9, the NCPC approved the final design for the memorial, with only one member dissenting. Former Sen. Bob Dole was one of the leading voices in support of the memorial, calling on the commissioners in a written statement to approve the design quickly in the name of World War II veterans—“a million aging American heroes who revere Ike and want to honor him before we are all gone.”

In his remarks at that meeting, Shubow attacked the nighttime lighting plan, arguing that the steel tapestry “will look like a glowing billboard or movie screen. It’s distracting brightness will undeniably ruin the vista to the Capitol.”

Broadly, the NCAS’s principal grievance is aesthetic, although both Grenfell and Shubow admitted that their complaints go deeper. To them, Gehry’s memorial is too modernist, and in its attempts to be something new and never-before-seen it misses the point about what a monument is supposed to do.

A good monument, Grenfell explained, should be easy to understand and beautiful.

“In terms of beauty—frankly, most modern artists don’t even think of the word,” he continued. “They think of the word ‘challenging’ and ‘cutting edge’ or something, but not ‘beauty.’ I think we need to reconnect with the great tradition of monument and architecture to go forward—not to reject it wholeheartedly, but to continue with it and evolve with it the way civilizations have always addressed monuments and art.”

Shubow concurs. “For what the public knows, it’s mainly aesthetic,” he says. “But for people who understand more, it’s about the spending, and also there’s the competition.”

So how about the Jefferson Memorial, he is asked. Does that pass muster? Shubow doesn’t hesitate:  “I think it’s magnificent.”

Posted in civic architecture, classicism, congressional testimony, Eisenhower Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Jr. Memorial, Modernism, monuments, National Capital Planning Commission, National Civic Art Society, World War II Memorial | Leave a comment

Speaking About Contemporary Federal Architecture on Apr. 28 in NYC

Salt Lake City Federal Courthouse -- Architect: Thomas Phifer and Partners, 2014
Salt Lake City Federal Courthouse — Architect: Thomas Phifer and Partners, 2014

On April 28 in New York City I’ll be speaking on “The Architecture of Democracy: How the Federal Government Chooses Architects.” My talk is being sponsored by the National Civic Art Society and First Things magazine, and will take place at the latter’s editorial offices. It’s free and open to the public.

My talk will be on the same subject I previously described here.

Date: Tuesday, April 28
Time: 6 PM reception; 6:30 PM lecture
Cost: Free
Location: First Things Editorial Offices, 35 E. 21st St., Sixth Floor, New York, NY 10010

 

Posted in courthouses, deconstructionism, deconstructivism, federal architecture, public talks, Thomas Phifer and Partners, ugliness | Leave a comment

Speaking in NYC About Federal Architecture on Dec. 17

San Francisco Federal Building -- Architect: Thom Mayne of Morphosis, 2007
San Francisco Federal Building — Architect: Thom Mayne of Morphosis, 2007

On December 17 at the National Arts Club in New York, I’m going to be speaking about federal architecture. Here’s the description from the club’s bulletin:

Justin Shubow: The Architecture of Democracy
Wednesday, December 17, 8:00 PM


The General Services Administration–which oversees the design of all federal buildings and courthouses, including the attendant artwork–is the largest patron of art and architecture in the United States. Its works are the physical embodiment of the federal government, and thus have great symbolic significance and evince America.

In 1994, GSA created the Design Excellence Program to overcome what it perceived to have been the mediocre, uninspiring buildings the government had constructed over the prior decades. The program subscribes to the Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture, which then-presidential aide Daniel Patrick Moynihan created in 1962: “It should be our object to meet the test of Pericles’ evocation to the Athenians: ‘We do not imitate–for we are a model to others.’”  The program seeks out “innovation” and “creativity,” and has been successful in hiring some of the world’s most esteemed and cutting-edge architects.

This evening, Justin Shubow will discuss the history and evolution of the GSA’s architectural principles and the agency’s contributions to the American landscape.  Mr. Shubow is President of the National Civic Art Society, an educational non-profit dedicated to promoting the classical and humanistic tradition in public art and architecture.  Join us as we explore America’s civic architecture.


Tuscaloosa Federal Courthouse -- Thomas Beeby of HBRA Architects, 2012
Tuscaloosa Federal Courthouse — Thomas Beeby of HBRA Architects, 2012
Posted in architecture, civic architecture, classicism, courthouses, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, deconstructionism, deconstructivism, federal architecture, GSA's Design Excellence Program, Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture, HBRA Architects, Morphosis, National Civic Art Society, Pericles, public talks, Thom Mayne, Thomas Beeby | Leave a comment

Video of the National Civic Art Society’s U.S. House Briefing on the Eisenhower Memorial

On July 18, 2014, I spoke at the National Civic Art Society’s U.S. House Briefing on the Eisenhower Memorial. Also speaking were Bruce Cole — former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and President Obama’s appointee to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission — and art and architecture critic Catesby Leigh.

Posted in Bruce Cole, Catesby Leigh, civic architecture, Eisenhower Memorial, monuments, public talks | Leave a comment

Delivering the Keynote at Siena Heights University on Sept. 16

Siena-Heights-UniversityOn September 16, I’m going to be the keynote speaker at Common Dialogue Day at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan. It’s a day the school sets aside each fall to discuss a major theme. The theme this year is “Getting Perspective,” which I will discuss both philosophically and architecturally. After the lecture, students, faculty, and members of the local community will head to breakout sessions to continue the conversation. It’s an honor to have been invited to speak.

Posted in public talks | Leave a comment

Speaking on Capitol Hill About the Eisenhower Memorial on July 18

Capitol Hill Luncheon and
Briefing on the Eisenhower Memorial
July 18, 2014, at Noon
Rayburn House Office Building, room 2247
The National Civic Art Society cordially invites you to a lunch briefing on the planned National Eisenhower Memorial. The briefing will cover the status of the imperiled design by Frank Gehry and the alternatives before Congress. A box lunch will be provided.

Speakers will include:

 

 The Hon. Bruce Cole, the former Chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, and President Obama’s appointee to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission

  

 

 Justin Shubow, President of the National Civic Art Society

 

 

Catesby Leigh, art and architecture critic

Background:  After 15 years and $40 million spent, the wildly unpopular design for the Eisenhower Memorial is on life support. Not a shovel of dirt has been turned, Congress zeroed all construction funding, and the National Capital Planning Commission denied preliminary approval. Most recently, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment voted to eliminate the proposal altogether.

 

Designed by the fashionable “starchitect” Frank Gehry, the plan been criticized from all sides — including the Eisenhower family (see John Eisenhower’s letter here) as well as by numerous members of Congress, pundits, and art critics of all political and artistic orientations (see compilation here). Opponents of the design believe that a more traditional design selected by an open, democratic competition would cost far less and be completed faster.

 

Projected Cost $142 million — and threatens to rise. 

 

Those Invited to Attend: Members of the House and Senate and upper-level staff with responsibilities in the arts, public lands, GSA, the Park Service, and related agencies. (No interns please.) Also welcome are: Members and staff of the National Capital Planning Commission, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, concerned citizens, and the media.

 

R.S.V.P.: If you have not already done so, please reserve your place at Eventbrite as soon as possible. Space is limited.  Closest Metro is Capitol South. Call or email Fran Griffin at 703-255-2211 with any questions.

Posted in architecture, Bruce Cole, Catesby Leigh, Eisenhower Memorial, National Civic Art Society, public talks, Washington, D.C. | Leave a comment

In Which I Persuade the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts

Me testifying to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts on November 21, 2013.
Me testifying to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts on November 21, 2013

Representing the National Civic Art Society, on November 21, 2013 I testified about the Eisenhower Memorial at the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the aesthetic guardians of Washington, D.C. The text of my speech is below.

In the ensuing discussion, a number of the commissioners referred positively to my remarks, and two said they found my handout particularly persuasive. At one point Commissioner Alex Krieger, a professor of design at Harvard (and a friend of Gehry’s), said:

The fact that you would be approaching a memorial looking as this describes–this is very effective [pointing to my handout], actually, especially the second and third page–you are approaching this memorial with a gigantic column in your view of the memorial. It just seems actually, at that moment, a lot less poetic . . .

At the end of the meeting, Chairman Rusty Powell, the director of the National Gallery of Art, held up my handout and said “this was a telling photograph.”

All seven commissioners criticized the design–some of them in withering terms. The transcript does not do their comments justice. You must listen to the recording (84-meg MP3) to hear just how harsh their tone was. The commissioners’ discussion begins at the 51:00 mark.

*    *    *

Mr. Chairman, distinguished commissioners, my name is Justin Shubow. I’m here on behalf of the National City Art Society.  I’m glad to see in attendance today Bruce Cole, President Obama’s recent appointment to the Eisenhower Commission. Bruce also sits on our Board of Advisors.

As you may know, materials experts from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Smithsonian, and the Department of Defense have expressed serious concerns about the durability and maintenance of the steel tapestries. Their fears are well-founded.

Thanks to a FOIA request we submitted to the National Park Service, we just learned that according to that agency six panels of the tapestries will need to be replaced every five years. Furthermore, approximately 750 support cables will need to be replaced every 25 years, and 250 of those cables run the entire length of the tapestry. They are 444-feet long. We cannot think of another Memorial whose artwork and very structural armature will need to be replaced on periodic basis.

I will focus my testimony on the most important action item from the last Fine Arts Commission meeting regarding the Memorial, namely, the need to review the scale and the placement of the columns, particularly those on the east and west tapestries, Commissioners Krieger, [Elizabeth] Plater-Zyberk, and [Philip] Freelon expressed strong doubts in this area, and it is imperative that the Commission follow up on this crucial issue. I would first like to respond to the applicant’s claim that the column that violates the Independence Avenue setback should not be treated as a building. They make this claim in their booklet.

At a previous meeting of this body, Mr. Gehry specifically said about the columns, “They are almost buildings. They are huge in scheme, so they are more like buildings.” The applicant also defends the invasive column by noting that the street wall is already uneven. This is like a dentist saying, “Well, you have lots of snaggly teeth, so it’s OK if we add one that sticks out far more than all the others.” And if the setback doesn’t matter, why did the applicant make sure not to violate it in all of their prior designs?

The location of that column also violates one of the very principles agreed upon during site selection in 2006. At that time, the Park Service, in association with the Eisenhower Commission, prepared an Environmental Assessment that includes a list of constraints that the Memorial must adhere to. It speaks of the need for the memorial to “conform to the established setbacks of surrounding buildings to maintain the integrity of L’Enfant Streets, including Independence Avenue.”

For the benefit of those who did not attend the last meeting regarding the Memorial, allow me to detail what occurred. Commissioner Krieger, after eloquently describing President Eisenhower’s humility, said that the first impression pedestrians will get of the Memorial was not “one of humility” and is thus incongruous with who Eisenhower was. He said, “The memorial sort of shifts to not being humble enough when you see those side panels and when you imagine that the vast majority of people who are approaching this memorial might first see the back of a column, a very large column, a very sort of unprecedented column unrelated to capitals or buildings. This is a part of the memorial that to me seems now the weakest.

What triggered Mr. Krieger’s remarks was a rendering showing the Memorial from the southwest corner of the Air and Space Museum. He found that rendering in the design booklet the applicant submitted for the Fine Arts Commission meeting. However, the applicant tellingly did not include that image in the booklet for this meeting, nor have they included it in their presentation today, nor downstairs. Indeed, the applicant has previously created a number of directly relevant renderings showing what that column will look like to visitors, yet they have not shown any of them. If I may distribute images of that rendering from the booklet last time. [distributed handout]

NCAS Handout Page 1 NCAS-Eisenhower-Memorial-handout-US-Commission-Fine-Arts-page2 NCAS-Eisenhower-Memorial-handout-US-Commission-Fine-Arts-page3

The first page here shows the rendering that opened Mr. Krieger’s eyes. I’ve included two other renderings from the applicant from similar viewpoints.

After having critiqued the unhumble columns, Mr. Krieger went still further and asked the applicant to reconsider the side panels altogether. He explained that those panels aren’t necessary to establish the urban room since, “The sides seem to be framed reasonably well by large scale buildings.” Ironically, he said it is the side of the memorial facing Independence Avenue that is poorly framed and for that reason the applicant’s prior design, which had those two tapestries turned parallel to the Avenue, was to that extent better.

Commissioner Plater-Zyberk seconded him on the side panels. She said, “I think some of the points Alex has raised on the side panels may in fact be a very good suggestion because the original concept of enclosing those four acres and making the precinct has already been largely taken away. In fact, it may be becoming much stronger in thinking of it as primarily a park with a backdrop.” She also criticized the scope of the design, which is so big that it could two Lincoln Memorials. “Maybe this would be a good lesson for the future about big can be too big and hard to deal with. There has been memorial sprawl among the various monuments that have been built to recent decades, that this in a sense is part of.”

Commissioner Freelon agreed, “Some of these scale issues have to do with the fact that the site is so large. I understand that the screens were reduced and the columns were reduced, but perhaps not enough to make a difference. So I would concur with my colleague about the scale issue and also maybe not the need to constrain it with the side panels.” At the conclusion of the meeting when discussing the phrasing of the motion to be voted on, Mr. Krieger said in no uncertain terms, “The side column I want to get rid of, not the tapestries. But, they seem to be related to each other.” Ms. Plater-Zyberk seconded, “I think that comment should stand as a request for consideration of that. I am supportive of it.”

I look forward to hearing the Commission’s discussion of that action item, particularly since the applicant has not altered the side panels since the last meeting, nor has it been forthcoming about what they will truly look like. I do not need to tell you that this Commission is vested with the authority, and the responsibility, to protect the L’Enfant and McMillan plans, and to ensure that Eisenhower gets a Memorial respectful of his humility. Only the elimination of the side panels can make that possible. Thank you.

 

Posted in Alex Krieger, architecture, Bruce Cole, civic architecture, Eisenhower Memorial, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, FOIA investigation, Frank Gehry, L'Enfant Plan, McMillan Plan, National Civic Art Society, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Philip Freelon, Rusty Powell, U.S. Commission of Fine Arts | Leave a comment

Speaking About Architecture and Nihilism at the Michael Oakeshott Association Conference on Sept. 28

The dashing philosopher Michael Oakeshott

On Saturday, September 28, 2013, I’ll be giving a talk at the biennial conference of the Michael Oakeshott Association. (Full conference program here.) The theme of the conference, which is being held at Colorado College, is Modernity and Its Discontents. Here’s the abstract of my presentation, which alludes to Oakeshott’s essay “The Tower of Babel”:

The Tower of Wreckage: The Triumph of Nihilism in Architecture

Outside of academia, architecture is the field in which deconstructionism has achieved the greatest success: buildings that vandalize our cities and monuments that subvert the very ideals they are supposed to represent. The effect is to disorient, threaten, and demoralize the public, which has no choice but to be exposed to such structures. Deconstructionist architects are praised by global elites, win the profession’s highest awards, and obtain many of the most important commissions, including those where the client is the state. If architecture is the embodiment of a civilization, what does such actually existing nihilism portend for the future? What is to be done?

Focusing more on Oakeshott’s political philosophy, in 2005 I published a review-essay in The Common Review titled “Philosophers and Kings: A Review of Paul Franco’s Michael Oakeshott: An Introduction.” And in 2012, I contributed “Oakeshott on the Rule of Law” to Liberty Fund’s Library of Law and Liberty.

Posted in architecture, civic architecture, deconstructionism, deconstructivism, Michael Oakeshott, nihilism, political philosophy, vandalism | 2 Comments