The Robert ruins in Gallery 218

The Art Institute of Chicago recently featured on social media a painting by Hubert Robert:

Among the many worthwhile works on the second floor of the Art Institute are these four works in one room. I have always enjoyed them. Building off yesterday’s post about how today’s buildings could become tomorrow’s fossils, these paintings romanticize ruins from past civilizations. Imagine walking through such structures. There may have been centuries when people could wander through such ruins in Rome, Greece, Egypt, and more. Today, such a site would be hard to find as many ruins are swarming with tourists.

What always impressed me about these paintings was the scale of the buildings. As the social media post notes, the people at the bottom are very small. The buildings are massive and impressive. They connote great civilization and activity. Imagine this building above with a full vaulted ceiling and full of people. The buildings have lived on even as the individual leaders and residents changed.

The Diderot quote above is an interesting one. These buildings are falling apart and time will conquer them. At some point, the pillars will fall, the arches will be no more, and the scene will look very different. But, rulers and leaders construct such buildings in the first place so that the structures outlive them. They will not last forever, but even as ruins or remains in the ground they can still attest to a past era.

Build a tower in Naperville, possibly tear it down 17 years later

Naperville hasn’t experienced many major failures in recent decades but the Moser Tower along the Riverwalk is in trouble:

The Riverwalk Commission on Wednesday began reviewing an assessment of the structure before formulating a recommendation to the city council about what should be done with the 17-year-old Moser Tower, a 160-foot-tall spire that houses 72 chiming bells and has become an icon on the city’s skyline…

The city could fix the structure and maintain it as is for $3 million; fix it and enclose the base to help prevent future corrosion for $3.75 million; maintain it for a while and then tear it down for $1.6 million; or tear it down immediately for $660,000.

This tower has never received much support. It took longer than expected to complete and this contributed to the current issues as it couldn’t be fully enclosed with the money that was raised.

Additionally, it doesn’t receive much interest from residents today (from the article cited above):

But in a survey of Riverwalk users completed earlier this year, preserving the Moser Tower and Millennium Carillon came in last among four potential projects. When people were asked to choose their top priority, it earned 16 percent of votes.

Projects people preferred include building a park at 430 S. Washington St., just south of the DuPage River near the Burger King, which received 38 percent of votes; extending the Riverwalk south to Hillside Avenue, which got 27 percent of votes; and constructing ADA ramps at the Eagle Street Bridge, which got 19 percent.

All this on (1) the tallest structure along the Riverwalk, a recreation space regularly touted by Naperville leaders as an enduring symbol of the community’s civic-mindedness (started by citizens in the late 1970s), and (2) the largest structure in honor of Harold Moser, Mr. Naperville, who helped develop a significant portion of modern Naperville. Perhaps this will end up being a lesson to Naperville and other suburbs about embarking on unnecessary but nice commemorative projects?

A side note: the tower bears an odd resemblance to a tower from the Lord of the Rings movies.

A small town responds with a monument after the highway bypassed them

This is a common tale in American municipal development: the railroad or the road or the highway that once ran through the community has decided on a new path, now bypassing the community and leaving it without the traffic that once supported businesses in town. This recently happened to the small town of Hooper, Nebraska. Hooper residents came together to build a sign/monument along the new highway bypass (U.S. 275):

The foundation made the final pick: a tapered, 24-foot tower that would spell “Hooper” in 18-inch-high letters down two of its three sides. This way, the sign would rise above the fertile flatness.

Fund-raising letters went out in the fall of 2009. Quickly, the foundation surpassed its $18,000 goal, thanks to several thousand dollars from the old Commercial Club and to the many, many checks written out for amounts closer to $25…

Finally, right about harvest season, a brick-and-concrete base was built upon a concrete foundation. Then the three precast concrete sides were raised and secured to form the tapered tower, on top of which was placed a cap adorned with a large concrete ball.

Some finishing touches were still needed. The police chief, Matt Schott, used his excavator to dig a shallow trench for a retaining wall, after which a landscaping firm came in to plant some shrubs and make the ground look like an inviting garden, planted in a cornfield.

The project’s completion prompted no fanfare. The foundation’s members doubted that many people would gather beside a highway to celebrate a concrete tower. Besides, the sign was its own celebration.

Now, as the endless horizon along U.S. 275 surrenders to the wintry dusk, the beams of two spotlights sprout from the ground to illuminate the name of a place you might otherwise miss.

An interesting choice – not just a road sign saying Hooper is down the road if you take a turn but rather more of a monument. While it appears from this article that this was a meaningful exercise for Hooper residents, does it have any impact on the outside world? This project seems important for the community itself, an opportunity to come together, erect a symbol, and essentially suggest to the world that though the highway may not go through town, Hooper is here to stay.

This is not an isolated incident as many communities have tried to deal with this issue. A number of suburbs struggle with this: how do you get people to come into your downtown if all they want to do is drive along highways or major roads to get through your community as quickly as possible? One tactic is to try to erect markers or monuments at key intersections or along major roads that point people toward the downtown.

At the same time, how many communities today would actually want a major road, one with a 40 MPH speed limit, running right through the center of the community? For a small town, it might be the only source of traffic but for many suburbs, this would not be desirable.

h/t The Infrastructurist