Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why is playground equipment more creative than today's public architecture? New Deal artists & architects, where are you?

Once upon a time, we used to create magnificent public structures...

(A 1930s, PWA-funded water pumping station in Baltimore, Maryland.)
(A 1930s, WPA-built city hall in Williamsport, Maryland.)

(A 1930s, CCC-built cabin in Lost River State Park, West Virginia.)

(A post office in Oakland, Maryland, built in 1940.)
(We even decorated the inside of public buildings with murals and other artwork, like this 1939 mural in a post office in Salisbury, Maryland.)
(Heck, even handrails were ornate in years past, like this handrail at the post office in Easton, Maryland - a post office built in 1935.)

 (Remember when we put statues around public places like dams, bridges, and courthouses! Like this awesome 1930s statue at the Hoover Dam! .....no, you probably don't, and neither do I. These types of things were done when most of us were too young to remember or not even born yet.)

Not every structure built "back in the day" was beautiful of course, but a significant percentage of them were. There was a notion that a grand country should have grand architecture & art to inspire the people. Today's public architecture? Well, as the following photograph shows, playground equipment is often more creative and decorative than our public buildings...

(Not to be confused with a prison, this recently-built public school in West Virginia follows one of the more popular architectural styles of modern times, "Characterless Cube Style." Unfortunately, this style of architecture is frequently less interesting than surrounding architecture, for example the colorful and creative playground equipment.)

Everywhere I look I see bland public architecture. Spiritless schools, routine roads, boring bridges, colorless courthouses, and dull dams. And, funny thing is, the trend towards boring public architecture has correlated with the trend towards giving gargantuan tax breaks to the super-wealthy. It seems that we've given up on beautiful architecture so that the fortunate few can live in greater and greater luxury - so their kids can wear $78,000 watches and bathe in 24-karat gold bathtubs.

Well, at least the magical investments of the super-wealthy--made possible by their greater after-tax income & wealth...you know, trickle-down economics--have given us a plethora of interesting and great-paying jobs, right?!? Yippee!! Oh wait...

Nope, we didn't get that either. What a bum deal, huh? We've traded in beautiful architecture, strong infrastructure, and good middle-class jobs so that the children of the wealthy can eat $60,000 dinners and gloat about it on the Internet.

I don't know about you, but I prefer New Deal-type art & architecture over photographs & "selfies" of 17 year-old Kylie Jenner's $2.8 million home, Mercedes collection, "bikini-clad" body, and diamond encrusted hand. But, I guess I'm in the minority, since tens of millions of Americans have recently handed our Congress over to Republicans and Tea Partiers, knowing full well that these politicians want to eliminate the estate tax, so that the children of the wealthy will never have to work, and so government revenue will continue to be inadequate, thus ensuring that public architecture will continue to be as soulless and mundane as possible.

Welcome to America, where our playground equipment has more creative design than our modern public architecture.