Monday, February 12, 2018

Unbuilt Designs for the Lincoln Memorial

Architect John Russell Pope really wanted to design the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. He came up with a bunch of designs, including a pyramid.

A giant altar with perpetual flame.

And more.

But none of these grabbed the design committee, which went for Henry Bacon's Doric temple.

And I find it fascinating to think how things we take for granted might have been different.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

History is full of moments like these, where some simple change could have ended up with wildly different results down the line, that we quite naturally would be none the wiser for.

If any of the bullets that missed young Adolf Hitler in World War I had instead found their mark, the entire world would be different, and we'd take those differences for granted. If a stray arrow had struck and killed Scipio Africanus during the Punic Wars, odds are good the legacy of the Mediterranean Empires would have been built upon the Phoenician language and culture, not Roman. Et cetera.

That said, it is particularly curious to me to reflect upon the underlying religious iconography of our secular monuments. We take the Doric Temple form of the Lincoln Memorial for granted, but seeing these other design proposals really drives home the focus on a sort of quasi-religiosity that seems to have dominated that time period. A pyramid mimicking the Egyptians, a perpetual flame mimicking a Zoroastrian fire temple, columned temples taken from the Greeks...

Were these seen less a religious symbols, and more as icons of ancient cultures and classical values? Or were they acknowledged as religious in nature, but this was excused because they were from dead or extremely diminished religions? Could it perhaps have been a mystical or occult focus, similar to later European fashions for adopting symbols from Asia such as the swastika for their own non-religious but quasi-mystical usage? Or was the reverence for these icons - and the specific focus on the cultures they come from - more a reflection of the Renaissance fascination with recovering ancient wisdom? Or perhaps all of the above, to some degree or another?