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Icons and Judgments

John W. Pinkerton


There are certain structures which once viewed are immediately recognizable and immediately associated with the city and country in which the structures are located.  Most of these are icons which we accept and praise.  But some when first built received a great amount of criticism.

The best example is the Eiffel Tower.  Everyone around the world recognizes and accepts the Eiffel Tower as the greatest symbol of Paris and France.  Not so fast.  When it was first built in 1889 for the Exposition Universelle celebrating the French Revolution, it got the old raspberry from artists and architects and other intellectuals of France with a petition called “Artists against the Eiffel Tower.”  It was supposed to be a temporary structure, but the builders did everything they could to save it from demolition and by the time radio came along it was seen as a heck of a tower.  Over time opinions changed, and today the Tower is the pride of France.

Another French public structure which is becoming a little more accepted today but caused quite a stir when first installed is the glass pyramid placed alongside the French Renaissance buildings of the Louve.  The objections included that it did not match the architecture, that it was a symbol taken from the Egyptians, it was a megalomaniacal folly imposed by President Francois Mitterrand, and the architect was Chinese-American I. M. Pei.

I suspect the last one, Mr. Pei being an American, was the one that really pissed off the French.

I was a little appalled when I first saw what they had done to “my” lovely Louve.   I visited the Louve
when I was in the army and felt as though I had some ownership and no one had asked me before placing this monstrosity there.  As time passes I'm beginning to accept the pyramid as a positive.  After all, the French have plenty of other French Renaissance buildings, and when you've seen one, you've pretty much seen them all.

It's fun to make light of the French, but we must tip our caps to them for the Statue of Liberty.  The 151 foot tall lady dedicated in 1888 was given to us by the French.  If you don't love this icon of freedom and of the United States, the boats run both ways.  It was embraced by the American people from day one.

Now for the biggy: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, often referred to simply as the Wall, was accepted as the winner in a contest to determine the design which was won by architect Maya Lin in 2007.  The 247 foot  V-shaped wall sunken into the ground contains over 58,000  names of  those killed or listed as MIA's in the Far East during the Vietnam Conflict.

When Maya's design was unveiled, a cry of protest
went up across the country.  I too
was offended by the design.   To attempt to quiet the protests, two more traditional elements were added to Maya's design: the Servicemen Memorial and the Vietnam Women's Memorial.  Most folks are not even aware of these additions today.

As Americans began to visit the Memorial, we began to understand the design.  It is impossible to visit the Memorial without shedding tears.  I sheepishly admit that I tear up each time the Wall is mentioned.

Most of us are quick to pass judgments of structures which are designed to be viewed by the public.  My advice to you---and to myself---is to be a little reserved in our early judgments.  Give yourself time to change your mind.