Friday, February 17, 2012

Quick Take: From a Distance

A minor theme may be emerging in my choice of things to photograph for this blog: things in the built environment that project one image when glimpsed in passing or viewed from a distance, but that reveal something quite different on closer inspection.

Walter Benjamin had his "Arcades Project," so maybe this could be "The Facades Project."

Today's exhibit is the Carnegie Education Pavilion in Hardy Ivy Park, along Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta.

From a distance, approaching on foot or driving up Peachtree from the south, it looks modestly impressive: not a grand monument, by any measure, but solid, respectable, and public-spirited enough for a small park:

There's also something satisfying in the fact that the stone came from the facade of the old Carnegie Library, which had been demolished in 1977. In that sense, it's something of a memorial for a great old building, one that had been cleared away to make room for a lesser but more functional structure.

It's also gratifying, to an academic like me, that the floor of the pavilion features the seals of nine local colleges and universities, including my own home institution. What's not to love about a monument dedicated "the the advancement of learning"?

But this is a monument that reveals its own secrets, the props on which the facade is hung. The impression, from the inside, is of a monument hastily thrown together in the scramble to decorate the city for the 1996 Olympics. A great city needs monuments; a city trying to give the impression of greatness needs only to give the impression of monuments.

From a distance, it seems ageless. From within, just 16 years after its completion, it seems to be showing signs of wear.