Can beautiful architecture inspire Americans to become good citizens?

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Can beautiful architecture inspire Americans to become good citizens?
The Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall has become a defining look on the downtown Los Angeles skyline. Can fine civic architecture create a lofty sense of civic pride among the residents of a city where it's built? / © Richard Derk - Los Angeles Times
Can beautiful architecture inspire Americans to become good citizens?
The Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall has become a defining look on the downtown Los Angeles skyline. Can fine civic architecture create a lofty sense of civic pride among the residents of a city where it’s built? / © Richard Derk – Los Angeles Times

A hundred and some years ago, an aesthetic force called the City Beautiful movement professed the theory that grand public buildings, lovely civic palaces, could inspire Americans to become good citizens.

It may be no coincidence that at the same time, many Americans were new immigrants, fledgling citizens, and I suspect that the inspiration had as much to do with the powerful, authoritative message in the look of the buildings as it had to do with lovely mosaics, murals, marble, glass and brass.

The movement was discredited and even regarded in some quarters as cultish, but I think there’s something to the City Beautiful idea when it comes to civic pride. Los Angeles’ signature City Hall is as handsome-looking outside as it is inside, and if you haven’t seen the inside, you owe it to yourself to do so. City Hall, the nearby just-restored Hall of Justice, Union Station — these are buildings that signal to the people who walk in the doors or see them from afar that great, important, even solemn matters are transacted here. ….

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