The demise of plans for the Norman Foster-designed canopy at the Old Patent Office Building ["Panel Rejects Smithsonian Plan for Patent Office," Style, June 3] and the Frank Gehry-designed addition to the Corcoran Gallery ["Corcoran Could Clip Its New Wing," front page, May 20], while seemingly unrelated, are emblematic of the sorry state of architecture in the nation's capital.

Innovative design is enlivening cities, wowing audiences and adding to the irreplaceable character of the world's historic patrimony, but Washington seems mired in a provincial and retrograde effort to build banal imitations of its fabled past.

It is a sad day when two important exceptions to this state of affairs are dragged down -- one by the limited vision of those appointed to determine the city's architectural future, and the other by a lack of community financial support.

Great cities and institutions find ways to make important things happen, to take risks, to exult in the creativity of the mind and to encourage a diversity of aesthetic visions. The Reichstag and the Louvre have been rebuilt in ways that would be unthinkable in Washington, yet they pay homage to the context of their surroundings in ways that historical mimicry and slavish devotion to archaic forms can never achieve.

For a time in the 1970s, it appeared that Washington had come to a more cosmopolitan aesthetic with the creation of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art and the Vietnam Memorial, but that era passed. It is astounding and unacceptable that a city with the nation's best urban planning cannot or will not support the best architecture of our time.


Senior Resident Fellow

Urban Land Institute