Originally posted to Facebook on 1 Oct 2018 while on a Texas road-trip.
One of the madder things I attempted last year was a public ‘City Hack’ (like an interactive walking tour) of Downtown Dallas, having only arrived on the city for the first time a couple of hours beforehand. Around 40 locals turned up, most with no prior connection to me, to hear this Brit try and figure out some of the powerful stories that shape their city.
One of the moments that stands in my memory was at the JFK Memorial. An older guy reflected on hearing about the assassination while he was at school. He said that, having lived through the 50 years that followed, he felt America’s loss of trust in its institutions began that day.
The red-brick gothic-revivalist fantasy castle in the background is the old county court house. The hyper-modernist cenotaph to JFK stands next to it – as stark an architectural juxtaposition as you’re likely to find. The clean lines of modernism are a deliberate rejection of the ostentatious curves of gothic romantics. It seemed to me that this place echoed my new friend’s words – that life after JFK was a rejection of the institution.
So I came back today to capture this image of the two structures side-by-side.
But what this image doesn’t show is that the current courthouse is now just across the street in a thoroughly modernist, typically-brutalist office building. The old red courthouse is now a museum. The institution lives on, however much we distrust it – but it too rejects the ostentation of the past. Our hyper-modern bureaucracies can be every bit as brutal as the buildings that house them.
I can’t help thinking about the current crisis of the US court and the fantasy of justice, but also the emptiness of the modernist promise to do away with excess. What are we left with except two shrines to a past that couldn’t deliver on its ideals?
The new buildings around here are all glass-fronted skyscrapers, vast temples to 21st century capitalism. When government is for sale, justice is over.
I’m not sure where trust comes from now.