The Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. US Courthouse in Miami designed by Architectonica, one of the buildings named in the recent executive draft order (photo by Phillip Pessar/Flickr)

In a chilling throwback to Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, which Trump has cited as one of his favorite books, the White House is considering issuing new recommendations for federal architecture that favor the neoclassical style — think symmetry, proportion, and columns … lots of columns.

Architectural Record obtained a draft of the executive order, surreally titled “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.” It proposes amending the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture, authored by late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1962 and outlining the standards for public buildings in the US, to ensure that “the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style.” The document was published in its entirety by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The draft order also accuses the General Service Administration’s (GSA) Design Excellence Program of failing to reflect “our national values” in its buildings, specifically calling out 20th century Brutalist and Deconstructivist architecture. According to Architectural Record, the document argues that these styles “fail to satisfy the requirements” laid out in the Guiding Principles; namely, that federal buildings “provide visual testimony to the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the American government.”

News of the potential executive order alarmed the American Institute of Architects (AIA), which issued a statement in response to Architectural Record’s story saying it “strongly opposes uniform style mandates for federal architecture.” The group continued, “Architecture should be designed for the specific communities that it serves, reflecting our rich nation’s diverse places, thought, culture and climates. 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.”

Examples of structures that our current government views as aberrations include the US Federal Building in San Francisco, designed by the American studio Morphosis; the US Courthouse in Austin, Texas, by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects; and Architectonica’s Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. US Courthouse in Miami. None of these buildings represent Brutalist and Deconstructivist styles, but the authors of the reported draft order are of the opinion that they are, quite simply, of “little aesthetic appeal.”

“Federal architecture should once again inspire respect instead of bewilderment or repugnance,” reads the document.

Neoclassical architecture exemplifies “purity” and simplicity in art, values that can take many forms, including not necessarily egregious ones. But coming from the Trump administration — which has demonized immigrants and people of color, defended white supremacists, and jeopardized our freedom of press — the directive to adopt a style that prizes control over artistic expression is symbolic in the most perverse way.

The call for a homogenized approach to federal buildings also dismisses one of the most fundamental tenets of the Guiding Principles, the need for an architecture that reflects and responds to its time. The principles explicitly discourage the development of an official style: “Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government, and not vice versa,” it states, in an ominous foreshadowing of Trump’s proposal. “The Government should be willing to pay some additional cost to avoid excessive uniformity in design of Federal buildings.”

Last week, the GSA’s Chief Architect and Director of the Design Excellence Program, David Insinga, resigned his post. In a 2017 interview for Architect magazine, Insinga had said, “We want to see new ideas and especially as sustainability becomes more important in our culture. We want to see creative ideas on how people can achieve reduction in energy use, water use, and waste.”

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is Co-Editor of News at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...

24 replies on “Trump Wants to “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” by Imposing Classical Style”

  1. I can’t even count all the drivel in this article but you obviously have no idea how many of the immigrants and people of color that you claim Trump has ‘demonized’ are his strongest supporters! And before you claim that I must be a racist because “only white supremacists voted for Trump”, right? Guess what – I am a biracial woman with a black mother. I am from the city and I am highly educated, so I am one of the groups of people that were assumed to vote for Hillary just because I’m an educated, minority female in my 30’s. Wrong. I fully support President Trump and I think this proposal is spot on. Art and architecture inspires, enlightens and makes people feel good about their country while increasing tourism. I have a Master’s degree in Art History and I have studied architecture so I know what I am talking about. I have seen plenty of buildings in the Brutalist and Deconstructivist style, and I would describe them as dark, gloomy, and depressing. You can be proud to be an American and have national pride and want us to have beautiful monuments and architecture, while still loving and appreciating other countries and their peoples. I’m sorry the writer is so irrational and has jumped to so many false conclusions instead of getting to know the many diverse people that support our President Donald J. Trump.

    1. My aunt, a black, foolishly evangelical, woman, voted for trump because he said he’d “bring God back to the White House.” What a joke. That’s all it took for her to vote against her own interests on every level and I suspect that many (not all) of the other black women and men who voted for him, did so for the same reason. I love my aunt, but sadly, she wasn’t blessed in the critical thinking skills department.

  2. Those three buildings cited here might not qualify as Brutalist, but they are hideous. Ayn Rand would smash them with her fist.

    On the other hand, she would also smash any edict that Fed buildings should look like the Temple of Aphrodite Urania.

    We need Howard Roark on this.

      1. No.
        The writer of this piece invoked Ayn Rand, and was correct to do so. Rand happened to chose architecture to make the point of her philosophy, and here is a specific case of an effort to enforce one pole of its enemy: cloning of past ideas in the hope of yanking goodness out of it. The other pole is seen in the fed buildings linked here: wild showing off with no respect for natural expression.

        We do need Howard Roark on this.

        1. Rand’s architectural knowledge was as shallow as her ‘philosophy’. As a student on his way to a degree, even then I could see the folly of her point of view.

          As a political diatribe, ‘The Fountainhead’ ignored the whole purpose of architecture and turned it into a silly exercise in narcissism. Buildings are not created by one person but by a team of talented individuals in the service of the client….great buildings are not a sanctimonious sculpture to a grandiose architect, they are beautiful and elegant solutions to difficult requirements. But I can see how a sociopath would love Rand’s “vision”.

          1. rkress

            You did the following:
            1) spouted a speech of collectivist ethos worthy of Ellsworth Toohey!
            2) rambled for two paragraphs, then threw a hideous slander. Do you randomly accuse people of being a sociopath as if casually dropping something on the ground?

            I expect an apology for that comment.

          2. oh you are being ironic: that is such a relief! I thought you might be some delusional Ayn Rand fanboy (or girl?).

          3. You are free to think you get my tone and worldview. I’ll leave you in suspense.

            Do you have anything to contribute to this comment page? I feel confident I will despise it, and then when I haul off and demolish it you won’t be in doubt about my position any longer.

  3. Hitler and Mussolini also restored the classical style in their buildings. Trump would also like to restore imperial rule if he could with, of course, the “very stable genius” at the apex of the system. When you need buildings to gain respect you might ask why you’re not getting it for other reasons.

  4. Trump’s favorite book is the Fountainhead? A person with an attention span that can barely handle reading only one page of bullet pointed memos is capable of reading an actual book? What a laugh. He saw the movie, and someone told him it was based on a book.

  5. This proves that Trump is a fascist? He likes buildings with columns? Seriously?
    If he liked High Renaissance Art that would actually be alarming.

  6. The personal built environment DJT has surrounded himself inside of echoes the bordello decor of late 19th c.–Seattle end of Klondike goldrush, mid 1890s, specifically–that his grandfather (great g.f?) exploited women to create the seed money for Trump family fortune.

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