Nebraska State Capitol (1922-1932)
1445 K Street, Lincoln, Nebraska
Bertram Goodhue, architect
Lee Lawrie, sculptor
All courses in American architectural history should start here in Lincoln Nebraska, which is just as corn-fed and friendly and Midwestern and flat as your imagination suggests. Lincoln is a capital city and a college town of a decent size, so Lincoln has two centers of gravity a few blocks away from each other.
It’s a profoundly alien building, completely unexpected. You’re expecting maybe a capitol building like all the others, a white dome and two stately wings – no. This is a different shape and different presence entirely. The traditional white-dome-and-stately-wings is a ”container” in shape, you sense that it contains something. The massing of this tower is more dynamic and assertive, the Nebraska State Shaft, particularly in contrast to all the surrounding flatness. It’s a phallus, really, among other things.
Admittedly some people will only detect its kitschy quality and that’s cool enough, but this is a building with a social meaning and Cultic substance, like the Masonic symbols on the back of the dollar, an ‘influencing machine’ that can trigger the fantasies of a paranoid schizophrenic. Look closer, wait around, roll it around on your lobes, and it begins to haunt with its seriousness. It’s the real thing, sincere and disciplined, emerging from a strongly felt responsibility about reflecting and perpetuating social order. The building then hits you over the head with a highly organized and integrated set of figural manifestations, inscriptions, long quotations, admonitions, the names of famous men, friezes and other decorative technique.
It wants to have a word with you.