The Golden Gate Bridge (Addendum)

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The SF Chronicle had a nice article this week about all of the sketches that were made of how the entryway to the Golden Gate Bridge should be designed. This provides a kind of Addendum to the previous post on the Bridge. The tendency at that time, the early thirties, was toward glorious flights of imagination. Architects would dream of enormous monumental architecture, and these plans reflect this tendency. When I looked at the illustration at the right, I not only thought of the overwrought architecture of the Romans, which was designed to overwhelm the viewer, and remind them of the might of the Empire, but also the architecture of Albert Speer, who was designing buildings for the Third Reich in this same period. He also had grandiose plans for Berlin, but that is for another post. It was an eye-opener for me however, to discover that Speer was not as unique in his ideas as some would have you believe. In America as well, as shown here, architects sought to overwhelm the viewer with massive structures. John King wrote the piece for the Chronicle, and I was struck by one sentence, “the images are fun cultural artifacts that in real life would have been deadly”. Until now, I had been unaware that architecture could kill. I suppose he is speaking metaphorically, such as I was when I said I was struck by a sentence. I wasn’t actually assaulted by a sentence. I still thought that was a wee bit dramatic, although I like it. Warning! Deadly Architecture Ahead. I will have to create yet another post with that title, and find examples other than just this article and Speer’s famous examples of deadly architecture.

The world had such a vivid imagination at the onset of the nineteen thirties. If you check out the sci-fi magazines of the time, you see all manner of elevated roadways, skies full of all sorts of dirigibles, and robots. Lots of robots! People of course filled the skies with their nifty jetpacks. I can recall immersing myself in that Buck Rogers world as a child, and how thrilling it was to my imagination. We could use more imagination in architecture. I don’t mean the abstract monstrosities of steel and glass which don’t resonate with our inner archetypes. That is what works about the Golden Gate Bridge. It resonates with our unconscious in it’s boldness, it’s audacity. But I would agree with King that this has it’s limits. I agree that huge concrete structures at the entrance to the bridge would have distracted from the already awe-inspiring natural setting. There was an architectural school at the time known as ‘City Beautiful’. I want to learn more about that school. I suspect it is filled with all sorts of dangerous architecture. You really should check out the exhibition of these Golden Gate bridge drawings at the California Historical Society, 678 Mission St on view until Oct. 14.

You should also check Sf Gate to see if they also have an online version of this fun article. As indicated in the article, many of the ideas involved what can only be called monumental architecture. Subtlety was not the idea. This was forbidding architecture, brooding upon the landscape, filling the viewer with a somber sense of his puny role in the grand scope of history. Of course, as King mentions, such monstrous creations are often mistaken for mausoleums. The message is clear when you gaze at a massive chuck of concrete. I am here to stay, I am permanent, and I am incredibly important, before my massiveness you must kneel. Fascist architecture, basically. The German pavilion at a Parisian fair in the mid-thirties, which stood on one side of the Seine, next to the Eiffel tower, with the Soviet pavilion on the other side, was also compared to a mausoleum by writer’s at the time. I’ll have to dig out a picture of that brickbat of a building. Take that, Paris, with your puny effete architecture. So it looks like I have plenty to write about in the future. Remember to shield your eyes from dangerous architecture. Art can Kill!

2 responses »

  1. This was a fun post! Once upon a time (back in the dark ages… or the hippy daze), I dated a guy whose dad was an engineer on this structure. Wish I could share some of the shots of this bridge in progress. Or, more to the point, wish I had paid more attention back then.

    • Working on that bridge was quite an adventure! They had nets to catch workers should they fall, but the nets didn’t always hold. Many workers fell to their death. But it was the height of the Great Depression and the building of both bridges were a big source of jobs. The grandiose plans for the entrance to the bridge would have put a lot of people to work also. Thanks for your comment!

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