The great architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne made a rather odd point in the LA Times this weekend, comparing Los Angeles to Ancient Rome. Not because it’s once-great empire now crumbling, or because our city fathers are fiddling (i.e., throwing around a football)… but because of a big rock and a giant space shuttle:
One city — ours — is unfinished, amnesiac and forward-looking; the other city — theirs — is so obsessed with past glory, its streets piled so high with landmarks and layers of history, that its 21st century personality can be tough to make out.
So when I began noticing similarities between an ancient Roman ritual and two huge public events in Los Angeles in 2012, I was tempted to dismiss them out of hand. Yet the more I dug into the comparison, the more it seemed to make sense: In parading both Michael Heizer’s huge artwork “Levitated Mass” — better known as the Rock — and the space shuttle Endeavour along our boulevards within a single calendar year, Los Angeles is in some striking ways reenacting one of the oldest public celebrations in Western urban history, the Roman triumph.