Trump Administration Executive Order Seeks To Revive Classical Architecture, Involve Public In Design Decisions

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Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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The Trump administration has drafted an executive order that will prioritize traditional architecture as the template for all federal buildings.

The order, titled “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” laments the adoption of mid-century modern aesthetics into building design. Instead, classical architectural styles and historic styles as the Gothic style, the Romanesque style, and the Spanish colonial and other Mediterranean styles are going to be prioritized. 

The US Supreme Court is pictured on February 1, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)

Included in the list of buildings that have “little aesthetic appeal” are the US Federal Building in San Francisco, the US Courthouse in Austin, and the US Courthouse in Miami. According to the order, these buildings do not represent “national values,” and public opinion of buildings should be taken into consideration, especially for renovations of public buildings. The General Services Administration, which commissions federal architecture, will be responsible for holding design competitions for public buildings, and will “publicize and hold public comment periods on the final building designs under consideration” as well as “convene panels composed of the public to hear their views on the proposed designs.”

Trump’s interest in traditional building design echoes that of the UK government, which launched the “Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission” in 2018 in order to revive the character of communities and make them welcoming to residents rather than alienating, a consequence that many traditionalists believe arises from modern architecture. Roger Scruton, who died in January, was appointed to head the commission. Scruton was a stalwart conservative and champion of traditional design.(Related: Not Liking Modern Architecture Apparently Makes You Alt-Right)

Trump’s interest may seem sudden, but he was reported to be fixated on remodeling Brutalist buildings in Washington since 2018, specifically the FBI headquarters. A source told Axios that Trump had called it “one of the ugliest buildings in the city,” and said that “the building is terrible… it’s one of the brutalist-type buildings, you know, brutalist architecture.”

Not surprisingly, Brutalism is one of the forms of architecture the order emphasizes as unappealing. 

“For too long architectural elites and bureaucrats have derided the idea of beauty, blatantly ignored public opinions on style, and have quietly spent taxpayer money constructing ugly, expensive, and inefficient buildings,” Marion Smith, the National Civic Art Society’s chairman, told the New York Times. “This executive order gives voice to the 99 percent — the ordinary American people who do not like what our government has been building.”