the arch, the trope, and the reenactment
Is Saarinen's Gateway Arch in St. Louis a trope or is it a reenactment? That is, is the Gateway Arch (actually the arch in St. Louis has a rather profound formal name which I cannot remember, but which I hope to eventually find out again) a "turn" of manifest destiny into symbolic form, or is it a long standing architectural tradition enacted yet once again?
The assimilation of trope into recent architectural (theory) writing and criticism is an example of trope itself, is it not? And it often seems (to me at least) that "troping" (excuse my verbing) within current architectural parlance and design is treated somewhat as a whole new "Concept" in and of itself. Perhaps I'm here beinging overly simplistic, but recent architectural tropes and the pronouncements of such often appear to be elaborate justifications for what is otherwise plainly arbitrary in terms of ultimate design form. Personally, arbitrariness in design is not something I shun, but even I cannot escape the fact that 'arbitrariness' and 'design' are fundamentaly anathama. Nonetheless, informed decisions apropos design in no way lead to single conclusions; there are so, so many options, especially in our time, that ulimate design choices manifest a high degree of "post-objective subjectivity" (to perhaps coin phrase).
Of late, I've been investigating and writing about reenactment in architecture, both currently and throughout history. You can read a paper I delived at the Inside Density colloquium in Brussels, Belgium this past November--it is entitled "Inside the Density of G.B. Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius." The last section of the paper treats reenactment.
In any case, here are my recent thoughts regarding symbolic archs and trope vs. reenactment:
I first 'found' the notion of reeactment within ancient Rome's Triumphal Way, which is itself an oft reenacted reenactment of something Romulus did after his victory over the Sabine men. The funeral of Princess Diana is the most recent reenactment of Romulus' parade. (Yes, because of the "turn" of Paganism into Christianity the Triumphal Way "troped" into elaborate, albeit highly meaningful funeral processions, however, it remains that still only heros, and finally heroines as well, get the Triumphal Way treatment.)
With the Triumphal Way then came first the Triumphal Gate and then several Triumphal Arches. The Triumphal Gate was the gate within Rome's wall (and sacred boundary) through which the victor's entered the city after first assembling within the Campus Martius. Over time, special victories sometimes added a Triumphal Arch somewhere along the route of the Triumphal Way (e.g., the Arch of Titus, the Arch of Constantine, etc.). One could say that each of these subsequent arches, although rendering the victory newly being celebrated, nonetheless is a reenactment of the Triumphal Gate, but I'm now of a mind that, while indeed reenactments, the arches re-enact something more obvious:
Could it be that Triumphal Arches plainly reenact the structural arch itself?
Moreover, could it be that Triumphal Arches reenact the structural triumph of the Roman arch?
Was the arch an obvious form to use as symbolic of triumph because of its gateway/passage/breaking-through implications (the triumphal arch as trope)?
Or was there some clever designer back then that thought the arch was 'the' perfect manifestation of truimph because the arch itself is a structural triumph (the triumphal arch as reenactment)?
Does the Arch in St. Louis trope Manifest Destiny or does it reenact a triumph over gravity?