(Roughly) Daily

“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”*…

Believers in the “Tartaria” conspiracy theory are convinced that the elaborate temporary fairgrounds built for events like the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 were really the ancient capital cities of a fictional empire. Photographer: Schenectady Museum Association/Corbis Historical via Getty Images

On YouTube videos and Reddit boards, adherents of a bizarre conspiracy theory argue that everything you know about the history of architecture is wrong. Zach Mortice explains…

In 1908, architect Ernest Flagg completed the Singer Building in Lower Manhattan, a Beaux-Arts showstopper made for the Singer sewing machine company. From a wide base, a slender 27-story tower rose, topped by a mansard roof and a delicate lantern spire.

Every inch dripped with sumptuous detail inside and out; vaulted roofs, marble columns with bronze trim, window mullions with spiral fluting. The lobby was said to have a “celestial radiance.” A book was written just about its construction. For a year, it was the tallest building in the world at 612 feet, and a celebrated landmark for decades after that. 

But not for too much longer. Despite its great height, the pencil-thin tower lacked office space. In the 1960s the company sold its ornate headquarters; demolition proceeded in 1967. It’s the tallest building to ever be peacefully demolished.  

By any account, it’s a fantastical tale: Once the tallest building in the world and a New York icon, knocked down in just a handful of decades.

For some, it’s too fantastical to believe … or perhaps not fantastical enough. A dedicated group of YouTubers and Reddit posters see the Singer Building and countless other discarded pre-modern beauties and extant Beaux-Arts landmarks as artifacts of a globe-spanning civilization called the Tartarian Empire, which was somehow erased from the history books. Adherents of this theory believe these buildings to be the keys to a hidden past, clandestinely obscured by malevolent actors.

Who? Why? To what possible end? As in many other, more high-profile conspiracy theories, this baroque fantasy doesn’t offer much in the way of practical considerations, logic or evidence. But it’s grounded in some real anxieties, pointing toward the changes wrought by the modern world in general and modern architecture specifically — and rejecting both…

The fascinating tale in full: “Inside the ‘Tartarian Empire,’ the QAnon of Architecture,” from @zachmortice in @business via @MSewillo in @the_prepared.

(In the same spirit, The Glory of the Empire is a “history” of another empire which only existed in the imaginations of author Jean d’Ormesson and his readers.)

* Percy Byssche Shelley, “Ozymandias”


As we fabricate fabrications, we might spare a thought for Edmund Bacon; he died on this date in 2005. An urban planner, architect, educator, and author, he was executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission from 1949 to 1970. His visions shaped today’s Philadelphia, the city in which he was born, to the extent that he is sometimes described as “The Father of Modern Philadelphia” (and thus an arch-enemy of Tartarians everywhere).


Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 14, 2022 at 1:00 am

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