February 3, 2023

Olde Worlde LARP vs. American architecture in state capitol buildings: the Western frontier and American ethnogenesis

[Edited for Florida discussion]

Getting back to the topic of distinctly American architecture, the previous post outlined its basic features, so now we can go looking for examples around the country systematically. Architectural styles are rarely uniformly the same all around a country, especially a large one like ours. This also ties into why we even have a distinctive branch of architecture to begin with, while others do not.

To summarize the meta-ethnic frontier model of imperial origins, popularized by Peter Turchin in War and Peace and War, when two highly different groups are pitted against each other over the long haul, the pressure exerted by the initial advancing group forces the other group to cohere strongly enough to resist them -- and perhaps ultimately to overtake them as an empire of their own.

This process takes a century or so, not years or a few decades. And the intensity is proportional to how different the two sides are -- language, religion, subsistence mode (farmers vs. herders, for example), clothing styles, skin color, anything that heightens their awareness of being different and opposite and "this town ain't big enough for the both of us".

The Roman Empire was created in response to the invasion of the Celts over the Alps and through northern Italy, and secondarily the Carthaginians invading from the south and west (based in today's Tunisia). This is why Rome and the northern half of the Italian peninsula was the base of the empire, while the southern and eastern part -- Sabines, Samnites, etc., speaking Oscan rather than Latin dialects -- was not only sitting on the sidelines but often allied with the invaders to thwart their Roman neighbors from controlling their entire peninsula.

The American Empire was created in response to the Indians, sometimes allied with the French Empire and later allied with the British Empire after American independence, as well as the Spanish Empire and its off-shoots in Mexico. The meta-ethnic frontier was strongest and lasted longest out West, so American collective identity has been shaped mostly by developments out there, and not so much by back-Easterners.

For a refresher, see the Wikipedia article on the American Indian Wars. Conflict in the East Coast / original 13 colonies region was largely wrapped up with the Seven Years War in the mid-1700s. But it continued into a brutal spin-off war in the Old Northwest, or Great Lakes region, in Pontiac's War during the mid-1760s, then the full-blown Northwest Indian War from 1786-'95, and Tecumseh's War (part of the War of 1812).

The meta-ethnic frontier was strong here because the American settlers faced a large organized confederation of Indian tribes, not just isolated tribes here and there. And the Indians were backed by the British Empire, who were still planning to take back America.

This is why American identity begins in this Great Lakes region (or the part of the Midwest east of the Great Plains), before spreading out West during the Jackson years and later, during Manifest Destiny. And that's why Chicago is so central to the formation of American identity, rather than New York or Atlanta -- especially in architecture, from Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School, Art Deco, the International Style, and beyond.

The only other region back East that saw intense warfare by Indians, after the French and Indian Wars, was central-to-southern Florida, during the Seminole Wars of the 1830s and '40s. But even here, the Indian wars didn't last long -- just the Seminole Wars, as opposed to the deep and enduring conflict in the Great Lakes region, and then out in the Plains, Mountains, and Pacific Coast. Still, this does explain why central-to-southern Florida has remained a more all-American region of the country, without a non-standard accent of its own, in contrast to the Florida panhandle which is more a part of the South.

It's impossible to imagine the East Coast branch of Disneyland, originally from out West (southern California), to be anywhere other than central-to-southern Florida. It just wouldn't be as all-American hearing a Noo Yawk accent or Southern drawl from the local workers. Touring a plantation, or the Statue of Liberty, OK -- but not at Disney World. Nor is it possible to imagine the American Block Symphony style to define the local architecture along the East Coast, outside of central and especially southern Florida (mainly of the Art Deco / Streamline Moderne form).

* * *

In order to take a systematic look, though, we need something other than international theme parks -- something that every state has, and where there is a clear expectation that its style be important, not just an afterthought kind of building. And where the distinctiveness of American architecture could be seen against the backdrop of Old World LARP-ing. Crucially, where the building relates to who we are as a highly organized society, nation, empire, etc.

So we'll look at state capitol buildings, whose pictures you can browse in a Wikipedia list.

Almost all of them do imitate Old World styles, mainly Ancient Greece or Rome, via the Neoclassical revival of the late 1700s in the Euro empires that seeded the future American empire (Britain and France). Once that became the standard in the nation's capital, with the Capitol Building, it set expectations for the state capitols as well. If not Neoclassical, they tend to still be Gothic, or some other Old World style.

In this light, the most distinctly American political building in the political capital, of iconic status, is not the Capitol Building, White House, or Lincoln Memorial -- it's the Washington Monument. A jutting tower, angular / no curves, minimal ornamentation. It does have a small tetrahedron at the top, but it's not reminiscent of European castles, but of the Egyptian pyramids and obelisks -- which is still Old World, but not as much of a blind following of our earlier traditions. It's not as though British culture came from Greece or Rome either, but Egypt is even further removed from Britain.

It also represents the uniquely American take on Old World LARP-ing -- identifying with the Saharo-Arabian cultural sphere rather than the Indo-European one that we actually come from. But Indo-European is too close to European, and our whole national project is to distinguish ourselves from Europeans -- so pyramids, obelisks, and ziggurats it must be for us. Nothing Islamic either, with its curves and Medieval origin, we need something ancient to deeply root our LARP-ing, since we have such shallow roots in the New World.

Political buildings, along with religious buildings, tend to be the most resistant to change style-wise (unlike buildings such as residential or commercial, which are less important for defining a cultural collective). However, there are a handful of exceptions -- the 9 colored red in the map below, indicating some kind of block-based style, which is definitively American:

Notice that nearly every one of them is west of the Mississippi River, and in fact all but one of those is on or west of the Missouri River. It's clearly a Western phenomenon. And it's not a northern or southern trend within the west -- Alaska, Oregon, Nebraska, and North Dakota are northern, while Hawaii, Arizona, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Florida are southern.

You can quibble about the New Mexico "roundhouse" building not being part of American Block Symphony, but the point is simply that it's not an Old World LARP, but something New World-y. Too much of an emphasis on circles and curves does take away from it being part of the American blocky style, but it's still a regional revival style -- Territorial Revival -- rather than imitating Ancient Greece, Rome, Gothic, etc. The circular form is a cylinder, not a dome or arch or cone -- and when we think of Old World LARP, really only the Colosseum in Rome has a similar profile, so its roundedness is not very Old World LARP-y after all.

Plus, the complex that it belongs to also includes a clearly American Block example, the Bataan Memorial Building, whose tower is a clear example of the American love of towers that jut high above the rest of the complex.

Arizona is included because the legislative and executive offices have been moved into new buildings in the Blocky style, from their original Neoclassical home nearby, which has now been turned into a library and museum. American state governments are executive-based, like the nation as a whole, so if only the legislative offices have split off, I'm excluding those cases (like Nevada, Alabama, and North Carolina).

As far as aesthetic value, the states that were admitted after the Frontier was closed circa 1890 don't look as impressive -- Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii. They're out West, and willing to do something distinctly American / New World-y, but either they weren't settled early enough, didn't attain statehood early enough to have their own sense of special identity, or something else.

The ones that struck while the American Block Symphony iron was at its red-hottest, during Art Deco, belong to the Lewis & Clark territory -- Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oregon. The North Dakota and Oregon buildings are a bit too sparse compared to the ones from Nebraska and Lousiana. Best overall is the one in Nebraska -- more color on the exterior, and much richer colors / materials / American motifs (including Indian motifs). But Louisiana is a very close second. Image search for these buildings, to get a feel for how striking they are, inside and out, aside from the simple overview thumbnail in the Wiki list. Make sure to see the details toward the top of the towers, where the forms get really intricate compared to the rows of windows in the tall mid-section.

BTW, the Louisiana capitol development was personally spearheaded by the populist governor, Huey Long, who sought to modernize the South after the Civil War and Reconstruction. The new capitol was built slightly before the New Deal era, but still part of the Great Compression after WWI, during a period of falling inequality and bringing treasure from the elites to the common people. But it wasn't just any ol' impressive structure for the people -- he could've built an Old World LARP palace for that purpose, too. He wanted something distinctly New World, and American, not European. It came on the heels of the Nebraska capitol, and Long ensured that it was slightly taller.

Normally Louisiana is lumped in with the South, owing to the slavery plantation agriculture economy, leaving the Union during the Civil War, the historically large black population, and back-East non-standard accent. On the other hand, it does lie west of the Mississippi, and was part of the Louisiana Purchase from France, not an original Anglo-founded colony, so Anglo-Americans were pioneers and settlers in a strange land. It was more of a frontier than the rest of the South, at any rate.

The continental states with American style capitols used to have Old World LARP capitols originally, so the presence of a blocky building today represents a deliberate break with the past. It's not that the originals looked boring or poorly made -- the Old Louisiana State Capitol looks like a Medieval European castle with kaleidoscope of Gothic stained glass inside. However, looking cool and being well made was not enough for the western frontier spirit that wanted to forge a new American cultural identity -- they wanted cool, well-built, AND in a new distinctly American style.


Florida has been added to the list of states with non-LARP, block-style capitols. Every picture of it, from the Wiki list through endless pages of image search results, shows what is in fact the "Old Capitol" building, which is Old World LARP.

But similar to Arizona, this building is only preserved for historical value, while the executive and legislative politicians actually meet in and rule from the "New Capitol," which is a jutting skyscraper in the American Block style built in the '70s. It is somewhat syncretized with Old World LARP in the lower buildings to either side of the skyscraper, with their domes and columns, although stripped down in minimalist fashion.

Fortunately, I have already noted that Florida is an exception in being a back-East state that was subjected to Indian wars far later than other places back East, not having a non-standard back-East accent, and mirroring Newfoundland in Canada. Turns out, it mirrors Newfoundland in having an American-style capitol building as well.

Tellingly, the battle between the Old and New Capitol buildings reflects the main dividing line in Florida, between the northern panhandle that is part of the South, and the central and southern region that is part of the frontier and is all-American. In the 1960s, state politicians from central and southern Florida tried to move the capital entirely from Tallahassee (far in the north) to somewhere toward the central region such as Orlando. State politicians from the north wanted it to stay put, and wanted to keep the capitol building the same as well.

The political capital remained in Tallahassee, but the compromise was to build a new state capitol building and complex on the site of the Old Capitol -- the American Block style skyscraper and surrounding structures. However, locals from the northern part of Florida saved the Old Capitol from demolition, and it remains in place right next door to the New Capitol, although it is no longer the meeting place for the government.

Here we see the conflict within the state between the Not Quite American -- the northern panhandle, part of the South (back East), lighter on Indian wars, and preferring Old World LARP buildings -- and the All-American -- central and southern, frontier, heavy Indian wars, preferring distinctly American buildings.

I take no blame for having to make this addendum, since I already predicted something like that by emphasizing the exception of central/southern Florida within the Eastern region for its intensity of Indian wars lasting after the mid-1700s, it being a frontier, and the presence of Art Deco etc. in local architecture. It confirms rather than undercuts my thesis. Maybe if New York or Virginia had an American Block Symphony capitol, that would be a counter-example or outlier. But not Florida, considering the civil war within the state over who promoted the New Capitol and who wanted the entire seat of government moved to the center of the state instead of the panhandle.

It's just that every picture of Florida's state capitol points to the Old Capitol, and doesn't even bother explaining that the government meets in the skyscraper that is often not in the picture at all, let alone identified as the New Capitol.


* * *

Now, a brief aside on Canada -- and I will be ignoring the fussy micro-conventions of Canadian political lingo. Their founding settlements were in Quebec, from the French Empire. That is their "back East" -- and like America's, it has its own non-standard dialect, indeed separate language, Quebecois French. Montreal is their New York, and it remained the largest city until Toronto eclipsed it only in the 1970s (Toronto is nearest to Buffalo, at the far west of New York state, in the Great Lakes region).

The people of what is today Canada rarely encountered hostile tribes, let alone large confederations, of Indians, and to the extent they did, they tended to ally with them against the nascent American Empire (whether it was still nominally British or independent American). So the meta-ethnic frontier that existed in America was minimal in Canada, which is why America rather than Canada became the empire -- and set the cultural standard for the entirety of the New World north of the Rio Grande.

The Canadian standard accent sounds 99% like the standard American accent, and only a handful of common fossilized words give it away by pronunciation (like how "sorry" rhymes with "glory"). Usually you have to wait until they use a different vocabulary word altogether, not the pronunciation -- like if they call the last letter of the alphabet "zed" instead of "zee" or refer to a "marmot" instead of a "groundhog".

And yet, Canadians did have to migrate outward from Quebec and Ontario in order to settle all the land that they currently do. Mainly that followed the American pattern, since their original settlement was also back East. Their frontier is mostly out West, beginning in the Prairie and going out to the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Coast. But they also traveled up North, toward Yukon, the Northwest Territories (including the spin-off Nunavut), and northeastward into Newfoundland.

In the same way that the Sun Belt has played a central role in American culture, the Ice Belt plays a central role in Canadian identity. Even though most of them live right along the American border, they still identify as "true North strong and free", Arctic expeditioners, and ice sports fans. No different from Americans in Ohio or Oregon identifying with the Texas cowboys, Valley girls of SoCal, and so on.

Canada uses a parliamentary system of government, and here is a list of their provinces with images of their legislative buildings, akin to our state capitols. As in America, political and religious buildings are strongly resistant to change. Most of them are an Old World LARP, although inflected through French rather than British traditions -- French Neoclassical, Beaux Arts, etc.

However, there are 4 exceptions (map not shown) -- Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Newfoundland, all of which are in the American Block style. The NT building does have a somewhat circular nature, but it is more pixelated or low-res, where a regular polygon approximates a circle in its cross-section (as well as its dome). The jutting tower only shows up in the Newfoundland building, making it the most overall similar to the American style.

Three of those provinces are out West, and all up North. Newfoundland is technically on the East Coast, but it is similar to central/southern Florida in being settled later, representing more of a frontier far from the original settlement. And it only became a province of Canada in 1949, almost as recently as Alaska and Hawaii attained statehood.

Compared to their American counterparts, the Canadian examples aren't as impressive, because their sense of collective identity has not been intense like ours has been (no Indian wars). They mainly go along with their Old World origin, or shoulder-shruggingly adopt whatever the Americans are up to at the time, whether accent or architecture.

* * *

Finally, no survey of the Western influence on standardizing American cultural identity could be complete without California. The state capitol is an Old World LARP, and so are the city halls of Sacramento and San Francisco, also in the northern part of the state. But have a look at other city halls in California, and see just how American Block Symphony the style gets toward the south. Already by San Jose, there's a compromise with a blocky tower and a curvy rotunda. Fresno's is hideous, but also not an Old World LARP.

Once you get to southern California, the big city halls are Art Deco -- Los Angeles, Van Nuys, Beverly Hills, San Diego. Bakersfield's is also American Block, but of the Midcentury International Style.

This matches southern California being the center for the uniquely American forms of art and culture -- movies and pop music. Northern California has always been more of a financial and commercial center (physical or digital) than a cultural center.

SoCal is more a part of the broader Southwest, drawing greater cohesion and intensity from its proximity to our rival nation Mexico. During the Mexican War, most of the fighting in the Conquest of California took place in the southern, not northern, part of the state.

I don't know their entire catalog, but I'm willing to bet the Beach Boys refer to American Block style buildings in their lyrics, rather than any strain of Old World LARP. You can't get more definitively all-American than that.


  1. Delaware shows that it's not merely about the time period when the buildings were built, i.e. as though newer buildings reflect the newer more uniquely American style, while older buildings were trapped in the past.

    Delaware's Legislative Hall was built in the early 1930s, with wings added in the late '60s, and expansions to the wings in the '90s. It's contemporaneous with the capitols of Nebraska, Louisiana, Oregon, and North Dakota -- and yet it looks nothing like Art Deco or other American Block form. It's Colonial Revival -- perfectly in keeping with The First State, far from the frontier.

    Like most others of its time, it was a new building -- and the old one was an Old World LARP style as well. There was no better opportunity to build in a new American style, if the old one was being taken out of commission, and yet they made a second deliberate choice to keep it looking LARP-y.


  2. West Virginia is another fairly new building, built from the mid-'20s through early '30s, and doesn't look Deco at all, but a pure example of WE WUZ GREEKZ 'N' ROMANZ. Naturally enough, West Virginia hasn't been the frontier since the very early days of the nation, when the Appalachian Mountains were what counted for "out West".

    It's the geography of our frontier expansion, not the time period of construction, that determines whether the state capitol is Old World or American in style.

  3. Use Flickr instead of the image search engines. I don't know why it took me so long to think of that. But Google's image search has been falling off a cliff, along with the text search engine.

    I don't want to go on that rant again about tracking down Art Deco Jesus -- and at the end of that search, it all traced back to a single upload on, dunh dunh dunh, Flickr!

    If you can't stand breaking free of the fake-and-gay chains of Google's Image Search, at least add "site:flickr.com" to the search box, and it'll only give you results from Flickr.

    Or just to to Flickr and do a search there. It does have an annoying bank of ads before the results show up, but it's a better look and feel at that point. And no need to keep going into and out of Flickr, as when you search through Google Images.

    By now, the results on Google Images are all the same -- you want to know what some building looks like? Here's the exact same shot, from a zillion different "photographers", half of them watermarked or paywalled or whatever moronic crap. No interior shots, no detail shots, no angles other than straight-on, etc.

    If you were making an encyclopedia and needed a basic thumbnail reference photo, that's what these are like -- but I've already been to Wikipedia and seen that kind of picture. This is supposed to be a search through the images of the world-wide web, gimme something different!

    You can even add "detail" or "statue" or "sculpture" and it hardly narrows it down -- the majority are still that same distant straight-on encyclopedia entry photo. Jesus.

    Go to Flickr, and there are a minority that are of that type, in case you did want a basic reference photo, but they're much better quality at that. And most of the results are of various details, interiors, even the hard-to-shoot places of the exterior like carvings toward the top of a tower. Different angles for different moods. Pictures of the surroundings, to give you a better feel for the total sensory experience.

    It's insane that we ever stopped visiting Flickr just for fun. I will never use Google Images for this kind of thing again.

    Good ol' Web 2.0 -- when the hope for "crowd-sourcing" was still alive. All those people with at least amateur photography skills and equipment, taking pictures of everything you'd want to see, and didn't even know you wanted to see. All searchable and somewhat browsable, in one site.

    Flickr is an endless gallery -- Google Images is 10,000 retards all giving the same answer (and demanding payment).

    I just wish the "drone photo" trend had happened earlier, like the 2000s, when they'd be uploaded to Flickr. That way, there'd be more high-elevation shots for these skyscraper-height buildings. But it's fine, there still are detailed shots of that height, from ground level, as long as the guy had a telephoto lens.

  4. Do not bother with Instagram either, the supposed successor to Flickr. It's just selfie-gram.

    First, Instagram is part of the fake "sign up with us to view our content" trend, and I will never submit to that garbage. It's just so some over-produced elite aspirant can say, "My login-wall added X number of new accounts, a Y percent increase -- I did something! I added value to the core competency of the aefwpifjweiegijhrguhehofpofej!!!!!!! That's why I deserve my 6-figure annual slice of the Quantitative Easing money printing!"

    In reality, the exact same number of people "engaged with" your "content" -- it's just that you made them jump through an annoying hoop to do so, and decreased your engagement with people like me who will never sign up for an account anywhere that I'm not planning to be a content-creator myself.

    It has nothing to do with increasing their share of total net traffic, driving up engagement, or anything like that. It's just playing to some corporate pay algo that says someone's income depends on increasing the number of accounts, per se.

    So I would never search through Instagram's own site, cuz it won't let me do that and see tons of results.

    But even going through Google Images with "site:instagram.com" shows that most of Instagram's photography is boring crap that I didn't ask for.

    It's like a bizarro-world version of Google Images -- a decent amount of variety, but pretty nondescript. There's little to show that you are definitely at this one location you queried about. Likely ZERO encyclopedia reference photos -- throwing the baby out with the bathwater. All interiors or just outside the entrance. Interiors have little distinctiveness, are just there as a backdrop for the selfie or the "I was here!" striver notebook.

    It's not to document the place, but to glorify the uploader. "I'm high status because I went to such-and-such location", which you probably can't even tell from this picture, but those are just "touristy" pictures anyway, and I'm living like one of the locals cuz I'm higher status than tourists."

    STFU transplant.

    This proves that it's not about the tech per se, but the social climate that produced it. Google Images of today, and Instagram since more or less its existence, are both crap for generating image galleries. Both stem from the 2010s and the social media era (even though G.I. is not a social media platform, it's from the same environment).

    Whereas good ol' Flickr is from the Golden Age of the Internet -- the 2000s -- and Web 2.0 specifically. You're still reading a blogger on Blogspot, why shouldn't you browse images on Flickr? Hehe. Everything was better back then, without exception. MySpace better than Facebook, early YouTube better than later. Blogosphere and specialty forums thriving, no Reddit or Twitter. File-sharing as far as the eye could see.

    Probably no one is still uploading pictures to Flickr, just as I'm one of the last active bloggers on Blogspot. But that doesn't mean all the content created by the Golden Age has been erased -- yet. It's still there, free to browse and enjoy, just like in the 2000s.

  5. The architect of the Nebraska State Capitol also built the Los Angeles Central Library around the same time, another Art Deco wonderland for the general public. Bertram Goodhue -- a Connecticut WASP who could only get commissions for Gothic and other revival styles back East (mainly New York), but who could score nation- and empire-defining Art Deco commissions out West. Also invented the Cheltenham typeface.

    You know the drill by now: search Flickr for Los Angeles Central Library to see how great it looks, from all angles and all places, since Google Images will only give you the same distant reference photo (fine for one result, but then go browsing at length at Flickr).

  6. It’s weird seeing the utility of the internet decrease in my lifetime. Back as a teen in the late 90s I saw the internet grow and mature into that golden age of the 2000s early 2010s where there was just so much good information and people to connect to. Forums and then blogs were a huge part of that and I think the decline of forums really signaled something though I didn’t see it at the time. What’s amazing today is that the internet is so algorithmed to death, segmented, promoted, pushed, walled off, that even asking simple questions in a search or looking for a how to guide becomes a nightmare. The signal to noise ratio is awful today and intentionally so.

  7. I long for the day that all the ugly Architecture in America gets abolished and only Beautiful Architecture gets built and maintained.

  8. Have you heard about the concept of The Californian Ideology?:


  9. By the way, I appreciate your description of Canada (my home). Canada's original raisin d'etre was as The Remnant ( https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheRemnant) for Loyalists:


  10. There;s something similar with Catholic cathedrals, LA and SF both have modern/postmodern cathedrals and mission type cathedrals are much more common out west.

  11. I think you're getting at an important point here. Americans base their identity on an act that involved radically breaking the link with their European roots, and this is why there is such a desire to be different. Canada never had this, and in fact it had the opposite. Our ancestors are the people who wanted to keep their links to their past, which (historically at least) involved rejecting the values of both the American and French revolutions. But sadly nowadays the typical Anglo Canadian is a real life soyjack who knows more about the US than about their own country (and really doesn't know the difference between the two), and the typical French Canadian is a reflexively anti-traditional atheist who screams at the sky, challenging God to strike him down (but in French please)


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