Inside Trump's New Architectural Order

December 24 2020 0comment

Inside Trump's New Architectural Order

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President Donald Trump of the USA signed an executive order yesterday titled "Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture" requiring all new federal buildings inside the nation's capital of Washington D.C. to be "beautiful". Beauty is of course a subjective matter, so what this means in practice is that they be built in the neoclassical style, an architectural style modelled after ancient Greek and Roman temples. This is not the first time that President Trump has tried to use executive power to influence the nation's architecture; earlier this year, he made mention of intentions to ban all modernist architectural styles in federal government buildings. In today's article, we will take a look at the President's order, its background, and potential effects it could have in the future.

The order itself

The executive order states that too many federal buildings reflect brutalist designs of the 20th century. Brutalism is an architectural style originating in the post-war United Kingdom which became greatly popular particularly in communist countries because of its cheapness, but has spread worldwide and allows for much experimentation due to its simplistic nature. The main downside to brutalism is that is commonly regarded as quite ugly and depressing, hence why President Trump sought to eradicate it from federal building projects. The order goes on to say that more American buildings should resemble the White House, itself a shining example of neoclassical architecture with its marble columns and facade. The order explains that "new federal building designs should, like America's beloved landmark buildings, uplift and beautify public spaces, inspire the human spirit, ennoble the United States, command respect from the general public, and, as appropriate, respect the architectural heritage of a region" - America's beloved landmark buildings in the capital of Washington D.C. are almost unanimously built in the neoclassical style following on from the desires of America's Founding Fathers to recreate the spirit of the ancient Roman and Greek republics in their young nation.

President Trump's attitude to architecture

Donald Trump's background as a businessman is primarily in property development and landowning, and thus it makes sense that the President shows an interest in architecture. His property portfolio does actually encompass a broad variety of styles both modern and classical, however during his Presidency, Trump has shown a clear preference towards more traditional European architecture. His latest executive order reads "Classical and other traditional architecture, as practiced both historically and by today’s architects, have proven their ability to meet these design criteria and to more than satisfy today’s functional, technical, and sustainable needs. Their use should be encouraged instead of discouraged." This order is a breath of relief to many who are tired of modernist architecture and its almost corporate appeal, however it has disappointed many others. The American Institute of Architects have unequivocally opposed the new order, an unsurprising move as the AIA has generally opposed most of Trump's architectural projects throughout his presidency. The order appears to draw a great post and chain barrier across architectural freedom, although it does not actually preclude all other architectural styles from being used. It reads "Encouraging classical and traditional architecture does not exclude using most other styles of architecture, where appropriate. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that all Federal building designs command respect of the general public for their beauty and visual embodiment of America’s ideals." 

Potential effects

The main obstacle to this new requirement is of course the incoming change of president. President-elect Joe Biden has not spoken on the order yet, though it is not unlikely that he will overturn the order in favour of allowing more diversity and freedom of design. The AIA has stated that it looks forwards to working with the future president and supporting up-and-coming architects and their ambitious new projects. If the order is not overturned, however, it will mark a notable change in direction in federal construction projects, turning the government away from more modern designs and towards the classical styles which were prevalent in the nation's earlier years. What do you think of the President's order? Does it stifle creativity or ensure good architectural standards? This choice is of course entirely yours.

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