is so fully realized that it has a presence wholly independent of what it represents--that is, the restored colonial capital of Virginia. But this disjunction between the present and past has given me the freedom to make photographs not so much as documents of the historic town, but as artificial realities themselves. They become compositions on the basic elements of architecture and gardens, and the orderly division of property lines.
The architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable doesn't much care for Williamsburg. She said to David Gergen on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer: "It's completely synthetic... They destroyed or moved over a hundred buildings that were past what they call that cutoff date, and then they brought other buildings in from other places. And they've--theirs--it's scholarly. It's studious. It's conscientiously done, but it is synthetic." (full interview here)
Clearly, there is some distortion of history in the way in which Williamsburg presents itself, even as it seeks to educate and enrich the lives of those who visit. The restoration is a product of the 1920s, and doesn't conform to contemporary ideas of historic preservation. But I think it is hard to blame Williamsburg for the banal and retrograde architecture of present-day American suburbia.
It is an easy jump to go from Williamsburg to the exclusively cozy milieus of new towns like Seaside and Celebration (the Disney sponsored community). But the themed environment is hardly a new impulse in America. Think of the great urban parks of Olmsted and Vaux, Jefferson's "academical village," the earlier Florida towns of Opa-Locka and Coral Cables, or even the Getty Museum by Richard Meier, a shining cultural city on the hill, overlooking the sprawl of Los Angeles.
|For another kind of utopia I invite you to look at my photographs of the periphery of Amsterdam. There, the new towns on the polder are built without the slightest gesture to historical pre-war styles. They are architectural theme parks of the new.|