curtain walls and liberty
Dan Cruikshank danced around Mexican pyramids and an 1851 Colt 6-shooter last night in his Round the World in 80 Very Very Special Places and Things, ending with the Statue of Liberty, which was unfortunately closed to both visitors and potential terrorists. It reminded me of several of the peripheral features of the statue often forgotten in the glare of its iconograpy. The broken chain at her foot, the Emma Lazarus poem inviting the poor huddled masses to leave their countries of birth and oppression and come to America, where all are free. Just before Liberty, Dan went to Monticello, the dark side of which is that Jefferson had 5,000 slaves while writing the constitution that said that all men shall be free. Dan's taxi-driver was very explicit about what he thought about that.
In Yasmin Khan's book about the Statue of Liberty she describes the skin as a curtain wall in theory, attached to an iron structure which has, built within it, a certain flexibility between structure and skin that protects the skin from stress. Eiffel and Koechlin designed the structure, rigid enough, and a system of straps that connect the copper skin to the iron armature. It is this system that allowed the statue to be built in France, disassembled and sent to New York and then reassembled there.
There is an element of the fairground and the exposition about the making of this statue, a kind of political hucksterism between France and the US that involves the building of the Panama Canal, the revolutionary identification between France and the US, the potential for the US to be a military ally of France in its war with Prussia. Perhaps it is always this way, but what remains, with this particular project, is a reminder of the deep contradictions at the heart of the USA.