I was just reminded by a commenter (at my earlier post The gaffe remains yet the teaching moment is lost) that I hadn't completed a story I had promised. And now, just a few days ago, that NPR has compounded its prior mistakes with firing Juan Williams and Ellen Weiss and now the Schillers, the subject of panic and premature response has been on my mind again. So here's the rest of the sad tale:
One day — and it's been a number of months ago though the several topics involved are still quite germane — a member of TradArch left this comment:
"I've seen some fuzzy renderings of what's proposed, and I don't like it. It's totally out of place visually. It makes no attempt to become integrated with the older buildings. A jihadist mentality is on view here, not merely a modernist point of view.
It's too bad that journalists don't discuss the issue from an architectural point of view. Too bad also that our leading architects are not making their opinions known. (Publicity of that kind would be bad for business, I suppose.)
I hadn't thought of it: with all that fury about about the mosque project near Wall Street, I hadn't received any sense of the project as a physical object and part of a city. Of course the design per se of the mosque was not the politixal issue. But I am so building-oriented that I thought it funny when I realized I hadn't even thought of the mosque as a real structure. So the comment was striking.
Here's a sketch, just FWIW:
Comments followed from other TradArch members:
Commenter # 2:
Honestly, jihadist? Let's get a grip, there's enough fanaticism and demagoguery out there without the cool heads of Tradarch catching the fever.
I prefer the building that is presently on the site.
Interesting line in this article: http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=38462?
"Trouble emerged after St. Nicholas announced its plans to build a traditional Greek Orthodox church building, 24,000 square feet in size, topped with a grand dome. Port Authority officials told the church to cut back the size of the building and the height of the proposed dome, limiting it to rising no higher than the World Trade Center memorial. The deal fell apart for good in March 2009, when the Port Authority abruptly ended the talks after refusing to allow church officials to review plans for the garage and screening area underneath. Sixteen months later, the two sides have still not met to resume negotiations."
Website for church: http://www.stnicholasnyc.com/ (What an unsettling image of the church under the burning towers)
Careful now Mr. ____, you are going to get the PC crowd upset with these kind of facts. Its not good for their agenda
Then, as if right on cue, Professor Richard John of the School of Architecture and "list-owner" (i.e. moderator), stated:
Having received some vigorous complaints from subscribers about the off-topic and offensive postings in this thread, it is my duty to remind everyone of the subject of this list:
"The Tradarch List is an open forum for the discussion of the theory and practice of traditional architecture."
This is NOT a forum for discussions about politics or religion, and most emphatically not the place for deliberately provocative statements about the religious beliefs of others. This thread is now closed and anyone who abuses the privileges of subscription by being gratuitously offensive to people of faith will lose them immediately. (emphasis added)
I was thunderstruck by his response. (Btw, I was NOT one of the commenters above.) If there would be any forum to discuss the design of a mosque (which is a pretty traditional form of building) I don't know where it would be.
But several points:
- there is such a thing as "jihadist mentality" and it is no disprespect to Moslems in general,
- the very first commenter wanted to make sure that the the discussion did not get out of hand,
- there is indeed such a thing as Islamic architecture,
- the discussion of the Park 51 mosque is obvious, big and needs sensible discussion..
Some cautionary reminders about civil discourse from Professor John would have been totally appropriate. Yes, people can get out of hand and rules have to be followed and had Professor John offered some guidelines, I would have seconded him.
But it seems to me that it was absurd — and especially absurd for a supposed educator of traditional design — to stop the discussion completely, to prevent such a prime teaching moment with knowledge able and sophisticated people. (TradArch is filled with some very smart people.) I could imagine that the discussion might have stood-alone for a broader audience to illuminate the nuanaces: What is Islamic architecture? Can the arrangement of spaces suggested by Islamic religious practice manifest a visual form different than we (i.e. non-Moslems) expect? Does or can "jihadist mentality" manifest itself in architecture? Does Park 51 in any way show it? And so forth and so on. What a loss to stop all that intelligence at play!
Of course Professor John's action transcends anything to do with Park 51 and becomes an even larger one: how to conduct discussions in public about sensitive issues. To my view, Trad Arch and the School of Architecture at the University of Miami over-reacted, did a poor job of handling what was an extremely minor incident and lost a tremendous learning experience. I guess you might say that I am trying to make sure it is not completely lost.
What do you think?
My hope is that Professor John and Dean Plater-Zyberk will reconsider their action to stymie discussion and open up the subject on TradArch. Now that would be real style.
UPDATE: Panicky over-reaction is seen in many contexts. Here's one today March 17, 2010 where Passenger vigilantism strikes again. It's a sign of the times and it is a sad sign as there will be many such potential upsets and chances for fear ahead of us.