The decision to use the material was also a rebuke against an age-old attachments to classical and Victorian forms, dead to the world, but which Americans had hung on to in fear of becoming historically irrelevant.
If there was such a thing as an appropriate style for the United States, it necessarily had to emerge from the industrial sector, or so the likes of Saarinen thought, not the classical obsession with temple architecture.
Steel, rust and rivets were more like it, features found on the factory floor and which celebrated American innovation, hard work and productivity. Even when that era had largely sailed, America still remained beholden to it as an image with which to invoke deep moral attachments. And so, yes, even as the country may have moved on to a service economy, it was critical that it stayed loyal to the look of the assembly line.
Expressions of degradation of an industrial past in this case were just as important as those of new and shiny buildings. It is not without a reason that the past few presidential elections have been fought and won in the rust belt states, places that are just as culturally important in their death as in their life. No better material could speak to those sentiments than Corten steel, eroded and weathered but also beautiful in the way it laments the passage of time.
That Corten steel should appear in Pullman is appropriate. After all, the town was built on the promise that rail and industry shall connect us all, east and west, north and south, including integrating a remote land grant institution into an ever changing global picture. Isn’t that why we have held on for dear life to that functionally useless steel bridge in downtown, to remember and wax nostalgic about a past era.