President Trump Issues Executive Order to Make Federal Buildings Beautiful, Outraging Elite Architects
On December 21, President Trump signed and issued an executive order proclaiming that all federal buildings are to be designed in the style of what the order terms “classical and traditional architecture.”
Titled the Executive Order on Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture, it begins by saying that beautiful and awe-inspiring public buildings are important for instilling civic pride and holding societies together. It then describes the style in which American federal buildings were built since the days of George Washington. Made almost exclusively in the classical style, these buildings remain as some of America’s most cherished landmarks and consistently attract flocks of tourists. Some examples mentioned include the White House, the Capitol Building and the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse in New York City.
The order then explains how, beginning in the 1950s, the federal government began moving away from creating buildings in the classical style. By 1962, when the Government Service Administration (GSA) issued its “Guiding Principles,” this change became official policy. The result was more government buildings designed according to Bauhaus, Brutalist and other “contemporary” and modernist architectural styles.
Washington Elitists Outraged
Despite overwhelming support among contemporary architects, modern architecture has often been criticized by the public as aesthetically banal, dismal and even depressing to look at. These long-standing complaints are likely what motivated the president to sign the executive order, which ends by calling for a return to the older classical architecture.
The move drew wild and hysterical objections from architects and orbiters around the Washington Beltway, some of whom alleged that the decision was Nazi-like. Those who support the decision, however, dismiss these complaints. They say that contemporary architects often have a narcissistic desire to project their egos onto their buildings so that they can achieve a kind of faux originality. This keeps them from making buildings that people would actually like to look at and be in. The Brutalist architecture that this often leads to only seems to create a competition to make buildings uglier and uglier.
Support Among the People—And Even in Some High Places
The order has made the rounds in draft form since February, drawing criticism from the architectural world ever since. A noted exception is urban planner James Howard Kunstler, who has been strongly critical of architectural modernism. When news of the executive order first emerged in February, Kunstler said on his blog, “Modernism doesn’t care about truth and beauty; it cares about power, especially the power to coerce. Many people detect that dynamic, and that is one reason they loathe Modernist buildings.”
Given the fact that the elite architectural schools hate classical architecture while ordinary people seem to instinctively love it, this executive order can be thought of as one more example of President Trump’s populist streak.