Article by Kat Koehl, originally posted March 16, 2010 on the LEAD magazine website.
The cheating of progress is readily visible to anyone who wanders through the Law Quad. Yes, I admit the Gothic architecture is picturesque. Yet the functions that the signature features were designed to serve had no practical purpose for buildings erected in the 1920’s. Pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses were invented for cathedrals. They allowed architects of the Middle Ages to stretch the limits of how tall a building could be; at the time it was an engineering marvel.
Yet in the twentieth century this was technology long since surpassed. We had new materials and methods capable of erecting skyscrapers, structures that exceeded anything those architects of the Middle Ages could have imagined. The Law Quad is beautiful, but that does not except it from being a testimony to the ignorance of innovation. Instead it is the Business School that is critiqued for actually suiting the time period it was erected in. This is not a matter of esthetic taste; it is symbolic of mankind’s problematic relationship with progress.
History is our security blanket. We are comfortable with what has already been tested and proven. It is easier to let others take the risks and profit from their success (or failure) secondhand. If everyone adheres to this malicious practice, society will eventually cease to exist. We cannot survive if we refuse to evolve. And evolution requires a break from imposed norms that serve only to suppress creativity. We are told to promote the end of the status quo. Yet in our attempts to move forward, we cling to the tenets of the past.
The past does have knowledge to impart upon us. It also imposes restrictions upon our actions. One may think that paying homage to the past is doing good for the present and making glory for the future. Those who mimic the achievements of others are not catalysts. Nothing new can come from the repeated use of the same form. Stagnation is the only good such people produce. Using the products of the past does not further progress; it can only regress humanity back to where we came from.