17 November 2011

O, but to stab the heavens; if only to bring glory spilling earthward; raining on redeemed and lost alike

During the last few months that I lived in Baltimore, I happened into some work that often involved having to travel down to job sites in the D.C. 'burbs. I had a foreman who was from Boston, and he designated me to drive the van because he claimed I made better time in traffic than anyone else on the crew. And about that traffic -- it meant having to navigate the Beltway during rush hours each day. It was a pain in the ass, because the Beltway's always mad congested, and for whatever reason people in the D.C./Baltimore area drive like morons.

At any rate, our various routes often had us traveling counterclockwise along the northern stretch of the Beltway during the morning leg. There's a point roughly around Silver Spring where you come upon the enormous Mormon temple in Kensington, MD. It's situated a short distance from the expressway, and as you round the bend the thing suddenly comes into view, looming over the trees like some massive doom fortress. Its broad sprawling blockiness and sweeping verticality, its stark white facade and rigid fenestration, and the tall, thin spires severely piercing upwards in the morning sun like massive gleaming icepicks.

A coworker told me that the thing inspired a routine act of vandalism. Strategically placed across a railway overpass that you drive under just as the temple comes into view, someone repeatedly spray-painted the words, "SURRENDER, DOROTHY."

No matter how many times the graffiti got scrubbed away, it would always reappear shortly thereafter, over and over again throughout the years. Here's an Associated Press photo of that juncture of road circa sometime in the 1980s, graffiti intact...

This article on the thing purports to tell the story of the origin of the graffito in question. Supposedly the thing reminded someone of the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz. I'm more inclined to say it possesses some of the qualities of the witch's castle, perhaps because I kept expecting to see winged monkeys come flying out of the thing. Hulkingly oppressive to the point of being ghastly -- very much a textbook example of authoritarian/fascist architecture. More specifically, at first sight it struck me as distinctly Stalinist in style.*  Wasn't sure why where that impression came from, perhaps because it reminded me of some other building of that type that I'd seen before. 

Yeah, turns out it did. Here we go, got it...

Lomonosov Moscow State University -- the main building, built circa 1949. Tsk.

Incidentally, there's an elaborate Bahá'í temple in the North Shore 'burbs of Chicago that's honkingly spectacular. When we happened across it years ago, the ground view level prompted wifey to comment that it reminded her of a gigantic wedding cake. The building makes an appearance in Henry Miller's The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, during the Chicago portion of the travelogue, when Miller's guide leads him to the site late one night when the temple was still under construction.

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* Or, as Eddie Izzard might have it, it's a bluechip epitome of the Big Fuck-Off Stalinist School of Architecture.

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