All is blissfully quiet on the West Front. This is an election year and no one on Capitol Hill wants to stir things up.
Once a new Congress arrives on Capitol Hill, however, the biennual ritual is sure to be staged again. The hotheads in the House will fight for more Lebensraum and vote to extend the West Front. The mossbacks in the Senate will fight for our Heritage and vote to restore the historic facade.
It is like a bullfight because there is no question about the outcome. The outcome is that the Architect of the Capitol will be ordered to bring the cost estimate for both alternatives up to date and we all can relax for another two years.
But there is always a spoilsport.
The plague on both your houses, says Jean Paul Carlihan, a much esteemed architect from Boston. Extension is folly, restoration is cowardice.
Let us "take up history's gauntlet and proceed with an altogether new West Front, conceived along late-20-century lines of thought and executed with the techniques of our times," he wrote in "Architectural Record," a professional journal.
Carlihan thereupon threw history's gauntlet at his students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. They are now working on the problem and I hope Carlihan doesn't mind if I give them a little help with these late-20-century lines.
The most fashionable line around town these days is Sliced Concrete, sliced, that is diagonally to create sharp angles - as sharp as 19 degrees.
The concrete chunks would have to be veneered in marble, of course, to signify the dignity of the national capital. And they will have to be very big, to express monumentality. Up on the West Front of the Capitol, if would be most appropriate to point one or two of the zig-zag angles at the Washington Monument, to symbolize where the father of our country stands.
Another good, with-it line is a Bompidou Plumbing facade, with red, white and blue pipes and ducts and all the other mechanical guts. It is high time our uptight Congress lets it all hang out, as they say. What is more, a nice aux courant Pompidou would reaffirm our traditional friendship with France and show those guys that we have some pretty fancy plumbing, too.
The Congress will want to consider a variety of possibilities, and Carlihan wants us to be brave and daring. So we ought to submit some designs in Mirror Facade, Space Frame Peek-a-Boo, French Provincial TV Cabinet and Urban Renovation Chic.
Doing the West Front addition with a mirror facade would be brilliant. As you approach the Capitol from the west, you would see the Mall in the reflection, topped by that great dome - a tour de force, worthy of the best the Ecole de Beaux Art could produce, but done with the techniques of our time.
A space-frame glass structure may seem like Bauhaus all over, but consider the political implications. We would all see what Congress is actually doing inside that building. It would bring radical reforms, a complete overhaul of the legislative branch. "Architecture or Revolution," as Le Corbusier used to say.
It's hard to say whether a French Provincial TV Cabinet addition will still be considered "in" by the time a cardboard model could be built. It would have to be a free-standing annex, as suggested in the drawing by my friend Forrset Wilson. With AT&T doing a skyscraper in this fashion it should communicate well.
Washingtonians love Urban Restoration Chic. They do it to any old house they can recycle.And it's simple. All you do is scrape the plaster from the wall until you hit Exposed Brick, cut a hole in the roof until you see Skylight and dangle some pots from what is left of the ceiling for that green jungle look.
The trouble with the Urban Restoration Chic is that it is very Preservationist in orientation. Carlihan, in his article, finds that "an almost hysterical urge."
And I am afraid most Congressmen agree. They adore bulldozers, wrecking balls and Progress.