Friday, September 08, 2006

Classical Church Architect Named to Top Post

From the Wall Street Journal:

The federal agency that builds courthouses, border stations and other federal buildings is set to name a new chief architect, a move that could usher in a return to a more traditional type of architecture in the government's $10 billion construction program.

The General Services Administration has selected Thomas Gordon Smith, an architect based in South Bend, Ind., according to several people who have been informed of the decision.

Mr. Smith is best known as a practitioner and promoter of traditional architecture that finds inspiration in Roman temples and palaces. His portfolio includes religious buildings in the Midwest, homes and the renovation of a building at the University of Notre Dame, where he served as chairman of the architecture school from 1989 to 1998. Mr. Smith said he is "delighted" about the appointment, but declined to comment further until the GSA makes an official announcement. A GSA spokeswoman declined to confirm the appointment.

The chief architect office is considered one of the most prestigious positions in the field of building design. It will oversee $1.6 billion of construction this fiscal year and has a long-range plan that includes around $10 billion of projects. Federal buildings are often the most prominent in town.

The previous chief architect, Edward A. Feiner, retired in January 2005, and the position has remained unfilled since. Through his "design excellence" program, Mr. Feiner recruited prominent as well as cutting-edge architects, including Richard Meier, Thom Mayne and Robert A.M. Stern. Mr. Feiner, now with architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, declined to comment.

Many, though not all, of the projects under Mr. Feiner eschewed the classical tradition of white marble and columns common in pre-World War II federal architecture. In its place are buildings such as Mr. Mayne's futuristic San Francisco Federal Building, a metal-clad rectangular structure.

Mr. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture and well known for embracing classical architectural traditions while tolerating modern ones, called Mr. Smith "a wonderful choice," though one that will "probably get a lot of people crazy." He says Mr. Smith has "a strong point of view, and that's great." Mr. Stern adds, "But he has the capacity to shift and manage his position without closing the door to others."

Others are worried federal architecture will lose its cutting-edge focus. Henry Smith-Miller, of Smith-Miller + Hawkinson, a New York firm, which designed a border station under construction in Champlain, N.Y., said he finds Mr. Smith's appointment "deeply troubling." He called Mr. Smith's traditional views "anti-progressive." It "picks up the imperial nature of Roman architecture, which was in service to the empire rather than service to democracy," says Mr. Smith-Miller.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Of course Mr. Smith-Miller's comments are truly ignorant and reactionary in the worst way. Aside from the fact that TG Smith is a fairminded man who grew out of the Modernist architectural estbalishment, classical architecture is no more about imperial governance than the state-sponsored Modernism of the Soviet Union. Ask Thomas Jefferson why he picked the architecture of the Roman republic to represent a republican form of government, or why the architecture of Greece came from the first democracies in the world. It is simply embrassingly inexcusable for an architect who claims to have any sense at all to make statements like this.