Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Great American Architecture Vol. 2

As I read more of Kunstler and think about his concept of the building on a street conferring dignity on the pedestrian at large, I am taking a more active interest in the architecture and the aesthetic of city living. I suppose my piece on Weider's Hall in Rochester could have been considered a subconscious Volume 1 of this series of posts. What I hope to do in this space is report on a form of humanist interest, especially on days like today where the Urban News is lacking.

Today's subject is a very special case. Due to some serious foresight by Westmoreland County commissioners in the mid 70's, this gem, the Westmoreland County Courthouse in tiny Greensburg, Pennsylvania (pop. 15,889) was spared from the ignominious fate of much of the rest of our national landscape and preserved for the purpose of which it was constructed.
(Photo by Tom Harpel: CCA 2.0 License)

Courthouse Centennial
Westmoreland County Courthouse escaped wrecking ball; stands tribute to esteem for law
Thursday, January 31, 2008
By Rick Shrum, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Article Key Points:

  • William Kauffman design built in 1908
  • Four story central rotunda rising to dome ceiling
  • 15 wall and ceiling murals painted in the early 1900s by Frenchman Maurice Ingres
  • Italian Renaissance style cupola measuring 85 feet across
  • Judges like it due to the appearance of importance projected

I think one of the most interesting things talked about in the article is the assertion by John Blahovec, president judge of Westmoreland County, that "If it looks like a courthouse, people are more likely to act the way they should in a courthouse." This reminds me of my trip to Waterloo town court in 2001 to fight a bogus seatbelt violation fabricated by the now exposed Seneca County Sheriff's department. That "courthouse" could have been a post office, hell it could have been a laundromat. To top it off, I was the only one in the place wearing a suit. The way I understood it previously, everyone wore suits at court. Apparently not. The charges were dismissed when the incompetent kangaroo court failed to notify all defendents that court was cancelled the day we were scheduled to appear due to a surgical procedure for the judge. F***ing clown shoes.

As to the architectural merit of the building in question, spend some time studying the picture on the right. Note its orientation to the main street and proximity to the sidewalk. While many counties and states across America revel in their courthouse squares, this works too. Why? Because integrating the sidewalk as quasi-public meeting space is like providing gills to fish. A city with active sidewalks is largely considered lively as opposed to those characterized as "dead after 5PM." The city, and in this case Westmoreland County, literally breathe through this arrangement (See: Jacobs, Kunstler).

Hope to have some more material later this week. A case study is marginally overdue. Still trying to decide on the city. I meet to write my first home offer of this purchase cycle on Thursday afternoon, needless to say I'm anxious.

1 comment:

tom sheepandgoats said...

"If it looks like a courthouse, people are more likely to act the way they should in a courthouse."

That is a perceptive statement.

I too have been nailed in outlying towns. Had they had their ducks lined up, probably you would have found that they offer everyone a plea deal.....lesser charge with fewer or no licence points, in return for a quick guilty plea and large fine, most of which the local municipality gets to keep.

They're strapped for cash these days. But you're not. Or, at least you're rich enough to afford a car, which is good enough for them.