I recently splurged and visited Mackinac Island with a few friends. The island, located between the upper and lower peninsula of Michigan, is perhaps best known for its automobile ban, relegating all traffic to foot, horse, or bike.
Perhaps because of this ban, Mackinac Island functions as a type of time capsule, with beautiful homes, shops, churches, and hotels that make it feel like you’re walking through the Victorian or Edwardian American villages of yesteryear—I always liken it to living in one of Kevin Sullivan’s Anne of Green Gables movies. In essence, the architecture is thrilling and uplifting, and makes one feel as if all is not yet lost in the land of the free.
I thought of this after seeing a clip from a Russell Brand interview with Tucker Carlson. The two discussed many topics, but one they briefly touched on was architecture, particularly the change we see in architecture today and the effect that has on individuals.
Today’s architecture, Carlson suggested, is one that “clearly hates people, that is designed to oppress the human spirit and make people feel without value, worthless.”
Brand chimed in, suggesting that “municipal and state buildings were once plainly an expression of a contract between the people and their government of a good faith relationship.” In other words, the beautifully soaring city halls and capitol buildings scattered across the country from a bygone era exhibited a mutual respect for government and governed, as well as the principles and values for which each stood.
By contrast, many of the bland, bleak buildings housing today’s bureaucratic agencies look like Velveeta Cheese boxes—sans the bright, happy, yellow color. Such dismal architecture emanates a depressed, downtrodden people, ready to do whatever their masters tell them.
This relationship between architecture and the feelings or respect it signals for its people is not just a current flight of imagination, either. In fact, author G. K. Chesterton suggested in his book Tremendous Trifles that architecture demonstrates the true makeup of a society.
Architecture is a very good test of the true strength of a society, for the most valuable things in a human state are the irrevocable things—marriage, for instance. And architecture approaches nearer than any other art to being irrevocable, because it is so difficult to get rid of. You can turn a picture with its face to the wall; it would be a nuisance to turn that Roman cathedral with its face to the wall. You can tear a poem to pieces; it is only in moments of very sincere emotion that you tear a town-hall to pieces.
Chesterton goes on to write:
A building is akin to dogma; it is insolent, like a dogma. Whether or no it is permanent, it claims permanence like a dogma. People ask why we have no typical architecture of the modern world, like impressionism in painting. Surely it is obviously because we have not enough dogmas; we cannot bear to see anything in the sky that is solid and enduring, anything in the sky that does not change like the clouds of the sky.
Given that feelings, emotionalism, and relativism—”your truth” or “my truth”—rule the day rather than fact and objective truth, then perhaps it’s not difficult to see “why we can’t have nice things” any more when it comes to much of today’s architecture. When our principles fail and our beliefs falter, our externals—both in our dress, our architecture, and other things—become just as fluid, standing for nothing except confusion and despair.
That’s why I’ll take places like Mackinac Island—or even just simple, old homes and buildings that have touches of character—any day. Their beauty and intricacies stand for worth and value, for truth and beliefs that we can’t allow ourselves to forget.
Image credits: Annie Holmquist
This article is republished with permission from Annie’s Attic.3 comments