President Donald Trump signed an executive order that designates classical architecture as the preferred style of building in Washington, D.C. He says the goal is to make federal buildings “beautiful” and inspire the American people.
Not surprisingly, architects who designed some of Washington’s monstrosities are in a snit.
Trump declares classical architecture as D.C.'s official style, new executive order requires federal buildings to be 'beautiful', nope this is not a joke tweet. https://t.co/bFzIPZ2CDp
— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) December 21, 2020
So many of the racists that I follow are *really* into neoclassical architecture.
— Dr Adam Rutherford (@AdamRutherford) December 21, 2020
Remember the tag “degenerate art”? A good book related to this is Albert Speer’s excellent autobiography. He acknowledges the general bad taste around him and the push for neoclassical “big” architecture. Sort of a mea culpa of somebody who could have been a fine individual.
— Nicolás Boullosa (@faircompanies) December 21, 2020
Right. So trying to beautify public buildings is racist and reminiscent of the Nazis? What is it about classical beauty that these woke architects hate so much? Maybe it’s that none of them look like the truly ugly public buildings found in Moscow back in the days of the Soviet Union.
“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,” the executive order entitled Promoting Beautiful Federal Civil Architecture says.
“They should also be visibly identifiable as civic buildings and should be selected with input from the local community,” it continues.
But that’s not revolutionary enough! It doesn’t violate form and tradition enough!
It’s just not ugly enough.
Trump in the order blamed the General Services Administration for selecting designs from prominent architects without regard to local input or “aesthetic preferences.”
“The resulting Federal architecture sometimes impresses the architectural elite, but not the American people who the buildings are meant to serve. Many of these new Federal buildings are not even visibly identifiable as civic buildings,” it says.
Indeed, some architects are complaining that the order would violate their “freedom of thought.” If they think that, they shouldn’t submit any designs. If the government is going to spend millions of dollars on a building, don’t you think they should be able to tell the architect how they want it to look?
A draft of the order was circulated in February of last year and architects responded with near-universal scorn.
“Architects are committed to honoring our past as well as reflecting our future progress, protecting the freedom of thought and expression that are essential to democracy,” read the response from the American Institute of Architects on February 4.
Among the Archinect audience, the issue has been hotly debated since then.
“I hope this mandate is dropped like the culture war nonsense it is,” wrote Archinect user Thayer-D. “Given how varied our country is both culturally and geographically, every style should be allowed assuming they don’t leave their context worse off.”
Architects consider themselves artists for the most part. That means they want their buildings to make a political statement. “Diversity” is nice but what is the goal of public buildings in our nation’s capital but to promote unity over politics? Can’t we have public buildings that are pleasing to the eye and that inspire the soul?
User ThePeopleWantBeauty came to the defense of the proposed order, writing: “I can hear the cries now that the general public’s opinion on architecture is one that is uneducated, and therefore we as architects as ‘elevated’ thinkers have the necessary task of giving enlightened design. Its a great pitch, but one that is founded in an architects pursuit to be a star. […] Architecture is for the ‘people,’ so give the ‘people’ what they want.”
There are beautiful public buildings that don’t have Greek columns or Roman ceilings. The goal is always to mesh form with function. How the architect achieves that is where the art of designing comes into play. Mandating “classical” architecture doesn’t mean the design must be out-of-style or outdated. And it would be a welcome difference from the way buildings are designed today.