Category: Architecture


Preaching in the Court House: An Experiment in Blog Advertising

At last January’s AALS meetings, Larry Solum gave advice to new scholars on the use of SSRN, suggesting that it was a good idea to post short, initial versions of an article as a way of generating interest and invitations to workshop one’s piece at other schools. Perhaps blogs can be used in the same way. Hence this post.

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Favorite American Architecture

empire-state-building2.jpgThe Wall Street Journal has the results of an interesting survey on people’s favorite architecture in America. The top 10:

1. Empire State Building, New York, NY 1931

2. The White House, Washington, DC 1792

3. Washington National Cathedral, Washington DC 1990

4. Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC 1943

5. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA 1937

6. US Capitol, Washington, DC 1865

7. Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC 1922

8. Biltmore Estates/Vanderbilt Residence, Ashville, NC 1895

9. Chrysler Building, New York, NY 1930

10. Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washingon, DC 1982

According to the survey results: “Other than the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, no building of the past decade made it in the top 30 in the poll of 2,000 people by Harris Interactive for the American Institute of Architects.”

I am also pleased that 6 out of the 10 come from Washington, DC, the city I live in.

The WSJ Law Blog notes: “Only three of the most beloved structures were law-related: The U.S. Supreme Court, which clocked in at #15, the University of Michigan Law Library at #94, and the federal courthouse in Islip, N.Y., at #97.”


The Architecture of Legal Education

wm1.jpgMy father is an art historian, and as a child he literally read me books about architecture as bed-time stories. Wild individualist that I am, I gave up on my childhood ambition to become an architect and went to law school. Still, childhood teachings never leave us, and I can’t help but being an architecture snob, indeed something of an architecture reactionary. (My father is a huge fan of Ruskin.) Not surprisingly, I love William & Mary. Indeed, I think that our College has one of the half-dozen or so most beautiful campuses in America. The so-called “Ancient Campus” around the Wren Building boasts some of the oldest academic architecture in North America. (As always, William & Mary and Harvard debate whose buildings are older, a question complicated by fires and moves.) Even the newer part of campus is not that bad. Like most schools, William & Mary expanded when the Baby Boomers went to college, and among the other pernicious effects of that generation was a massive academic building boom right at the aesthetic nadir of Western architecture. In Williamsburg, however, conservatism (if not anachronism) and snobbery in the main carried the day, and the buildings of the 1960s and 1970s are not nearly as hideous as they could be. All and all, it is a good place for an architectural reactionary to work.

wm3.jpgUnless, of course, you are a law professor. The Marshall-Wythe School of Law, alas, partakes of essentially none of the main campus’s architectural charm. We are located four or five blocks away from the main campus in a nondescript building begun in the 1970s, which can only garner the faint praise that it is not as ugly as it could have been. It occurs to me that many of the realities of American legal education get played out in the architecture of law schools. William & Mary is certainly not alone in locating its law school away from the main campus. The geographic distance reflects both the intellectual distance — we’re a professional school, law is its own arcane branch of knowledge — and the intellectual anxieities — we aren’t quite taken seriously as real academics, our discipline isn’t sufficiently integrated with others, etc. It also reflects the history and economics of legal education. The law school used to be located on the main quad at William & Mary in cramped quarters in one of the old academic halls. The new building far from the campus represented the economic coming of age of the school and the independence from domination by the central administration. It is the architectural manifestation of the same forces that give me a more comfortable salary than my friends in the government or history departments.wisconsin.bmp

I am curious about law schools without the architectural distance between law and the rest of the campus. Wisconsin comes to mind. Does a physical location at the heart of the University make any intellectual or symbolic difference? Wisconsin, of course, has a tradition of social scientific approaches to the law. Maybe we got Stewart Macauly because of the architecture.


David Lat Misses a Trick

720park.jpegDavid Lat offers this post about a Cravath partner’s recent real estate sale. David makes some hay about a supposed tax break that made the sale even more profitable. It may be therefore worth noting that John Beerbower, the partner in question, was the lead attorney at Cravath on a recently resolved pro bono suit on behalf of the City of New York that resulted in a tax refund of $280,000,000 for New York’s police, firefighters, and sanitation workers injured in the line of duty. The refund resulting from the suit was the second largest in NYC history. (Full disclosure: I worked for John for almost two years. He’s a terrific lawyer and a wonderful person.)

More importantly, how can Lat, despite his well-placed sources (but dubious use of mensch as an adjective), have missed the key detail about that apartment, well-known to a generation of CSM summer associates: the neat round room with the amazingly detailed, historic, wallpaper?


Finding Jupiter Optimus Maximus

jupiter.gifIt is not a horribly original point, but Americans expect a great deal from their courts. If we have some nasty and apparently insoluble social problem, we take it to the men in black robes and expect them to give us wonderful oracular solutions to our problems. (Amazingly, despite two centuries of failing to provide wonderful oracular solutions to social problems, we still go to court!) And of course, we surround our courts with this oracular mystique. The judges wear priestly robes. They emerge from within an inner sanctum in which they commune with the ineffable wisdom of the law. The Supreme Court Building is modeled on a Greek temple, not only in its exterior architecture, but also in its inner lay out. An entrant to the building passes through a succession of courts, each grander than the last. Admission to each court is more closely controlled, until finally one is ushered into the soaring court room where the justices emerge from behind the veil. In ancient and less judicially ambitious times, this architectural experience would have marked a symbolic assent into the presence of the gods, where the priests emerged from behind the veil that shrouded the Ark of the Covenant or the statue of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.

Apparently, we Americans learn this reverence (idolatry?) for the law early. A few weeks ago, I took my four-year-old son with me to the law library to pick up some books. As we walked past shelf upon shelf of the federal reports, my son asked me what those big books were. I pulled down a volume to show him, thinking that I would explain to him what a case and an opinion are. No need. He took one look at the double columned agate type on foolscap paper, and said, “Oh. It’s the scriptures.” I looked down and realized that the reporters do look suspiciously like the family Bible. It would seem that even in our book binding, the law apes the sacred.


Flipping the Divine Lorraine

DLH.gifOn my way to Temple Law from my home in Center City Philadelphia there sits the Divine Lorraine Hotel, famous as a symbol of the City’s ever-crumbling, once-proud glory. It sits on Broad street within view of City Hall, but has been shuttered and uninhabited for years. Now, for the third time this decade, a developer has bought the building. The last developer apparently made around a 100% profit in a little under three years (bought: $5.8 M; sold $10.1 M), riding Philly’s marvelous real estate bubble boom reasoned uptick. The purchaser reports that the project will take about five years and is “extremely likely to happen… . It seems like a lot of nothing has happened there, but everyone has advanced the ball.”

Before we get too excited about the reclamation of this landmark, recall that this is Philadelphia. It’s been over a year since the last petty-ante municipal corruption investigation, so we’re due. And I’m sure the electrician’s union will come nosing around. Moreover, the new developer appears to be making a bet that Temple will continue to increase student enrollment over the next few years, and that a few of those students will want to live somewhere cheap, compared to center city, but lively, compared to campus. This seems like a big bet to make, given recent changes on campus.

So, I’m skeptical.

But if the renovation of the hotel pays off, it would be fantastic: restoring the Divine Lorraine would be a real feather in the cap of the City. It would be the last piece of the revitalization of downtown that has been percolating over the last decade.


The Jurisprudence of Courthouses

sct1.jpgI have a theory about English and American courthouse architecture, which is interesting but probably wrong. I start out by noting that the most prestigious courthouse in the United States — the U.S. Supreme Court building — is a quintessential example of classical architecture, self-consciously modeled on the buildings of ancient Rome. The classical model, of course, has been hugely influential in American civic architecture. In contrast, the most prestigious courthouse in the United Kingdom — the Royal Courts of Justice in London — is a sterling example of neo-gothic architectures, self-consciously modeled on the buildings of the Middle Ages. The neo-gothic model, of course, has been very important for English civic architecture, most notably perhaps in the Houses of Parliament. Why did Americans go for Rome and Englishmen for the medieval?

royalcourts.jpgThere are lots of possible answers: America is a republic, and hence Republican Rome is a natural source of inspiration, while England is a monarchy whose legitimacy rests of long-established practice. The French Revolution is another possibility. Having spent twenty or so years fighting first Revolutionary France and then Bonaparte, nineteenth-century Englishmen were disposed to think of neo-classicism as a precursor to chaos, war, and tyranny. Revolutionary iconoclasts smashed the sculpture of St. Denise, self-consciously desecrating the medieval symbolism of the French state. The English responded by valorizing their medieval roots. Hence the Royal Courts of Justice. Let me suggest, however, that there is also a jurisprudential angle.

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Monument Law


Ah, public monuments. They’re how we remember important events and help define who we think we are. Dan Solove’s recent posts on courthouses reminds me of how much we’re concerned with presenting the right image to communities. And there’s been a lot of writing about the function that courthouse architecture has served in American history. Moreover, lots of folks are writing these days about monuments and their meaning. Sanford Levinson’s charming book, Written in Stone covers a lot of ground in a little bit of space. And people are talking more about removing monuments from parks or renaming them (such as the Nathan Bedford Forrest Park in Memphis). Sewanee: The University of South is going through something like this right now.

I haven’t seen any serious commentary (in the blogosphere or elsewhere) on the United Daughters of the Confederacy v. Vanderbilt University, decided last May by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Perhaps, though, it warrants a little bit of attention. It has some things to say about long-term contracts, the right of donees to alter monuments (like changing the names of buildings), and even how we remember the Civil War. The case arose from the effort of Vanderbilt University in 2002 to rename a dormitory on its campus from “Confederate Memorial Hall” to “Memorial Hall.

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Is the Supreme Court Moving to the National Mall?

supreme-court-on-mall2a.bmpI was reading a Washington Post article about plans to expand the Mall in Washington DC because of all the clutter from new monuments, museums, and memorials. On this page, the Post has a few visions for the new expanded Mall, which would utilize East Potomac Park. I was quite surprised when I read the caption at the top of the drawings:

Architects have responded to a call for ideas on expanding the Mall, particularly into East Potomac Park, with visions of plazas, museums, a new Supreme Court building, stores — and beaches.

Many people’s first reactions might be: Beaches? In Washington, DC? But I’m a law nerd, so my reaction was: A new Supreme Court building? On the Mall?

Sure enough, one of the proposals has a new Supreme Court building sitting not too far from the Jefferson Memorial. I’m not too keen on this idea.

First, I think that the current Supreme Court building is glorious, and I wonder whether we really need a new Supreme Court building. As Jason Mazzone notes, the Court certainly hasn’t been expanding its workload of late, so why would it need more space?

Second, I wonder whether the new location is a commentary on the Supreme Court. Instead of its current location behind the Capitol, it will sit rather isolated in a place near memorials. Is this insinuating that the Court has become isolated and aloof, sitting on an island practically all by itself? Is it insinuating that the Court has become an historical relic, something that mattered once in the past but that is now relegated to serving largely as a memorial?

Related Posts:

1. Solove, Old Courthouse Architecture

2. Solove, New Courthouse Architecture

3. Solove, More New Courthouse Architecture