- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

Pause to observe

For a few hours in Washington today, thanks in large measure to the visit of Prince Charles, the seldom recognized subject of architecture will take a front seat to politics.

“This is a very engaged and active design community in Washington whose voice is less heard because of the political conversation here, but any effort to raise the level of awareness and interest of architecture is a positive,” architect Catherine Armour, chair of design at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, tells Inside the Beltway.

So allow blueprints to reflect that at the National Building Museum today, the Prince of Wales will be awarded the prestigious Vincent Scully Prize, recognizing his exemplary scholarship — and criticism — of architecture, historic preservation and urban design. (This columnist covered Prince Charles’ visit to Washington two decades ago and recorded his rather sharp critique of the modern office buildings passed by his motorcade.)

Are we drawing too plain and ordinary, Miss Armour?

“The height restriction in Washington presents certain challenges that good architects can overcome, and not withstanding the historical preservation issues inherent in this urban environment we should be open to the possibilities of what architecture can present to us,” she replies. (Congress more than a century ago enacted a height restriction law ensuring no private structure in Washington extends any taller than the U.S. Capitol.)

And if Prince Charles is outspoken about urban landscapes, imagine his distaste for America’s endless strips of golden arches, gas stations and shopping malls.

“I don’t think it’s so much McDonald’s,” says Corcoran’s design chair. “I think there is an issue of capital: builders, developers and architects have to increasingly be concerned with waning dollars dedicated to the art of design. At a time when realistically many people are thinking about leasable square feet, we have to fight to make sure that architecture as an art form does not become irrelevant.”

In conjunction with the awards ceremony, the National Building Museum will present two public exhibitions of foundations the prince organized across the pond — the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment and the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. Both exhibitions, located in second-floor galleries, will be open to the public from Saturday though Jan. 8, 2006.

Praise you know who

Imagine being a Christian chaplain in the U.S. military and not being allowed to recite the name of Jesus when praying.

“As you may know, the Air Force leadership recently released proposed guidelines that will restrict how Air Force chaplains can pray, and if approved those guidelines may well be implemented throughout the entire Department of Defense,” 70 congressmen warn President Bush, referring to guidelines now under consideration for so-called “nonsectarian” prayers.

The lawmakers contend the Air Force’s suppression of religious freedom “is a pervasive problem” throughout the armed forces, given how difficult its become for Christian chaplains to refer to Jesus by name.

They want Mr. Bush to issue an Executive Order protecting the chaplain’s constitutional rights.

Vice squad

Rebuilding Aunt Suzie’s Yarn Shop is one thing. But Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia is drawing the line when it comes to Congress providing special tax breaks to massage parlors, casinos, liquor stores and country clubs damaged by the recent hurricanes.

The Republican chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee for commerce says federal tax breaks should go instead to “more deserving businesses,” and he wants Congress to say so in writing new regulations.

Spencer for hire

Former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has taken his top aides and formed the Abraham Group, an international strategic consulting firm.

The Washington-based firm tells us it is seeking U.S. and foreign clients who require counsel in domestic and foreign markets, from Europe and Russia to the Middle East, China and Latin America.

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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