Trump’s bizarre order as thousands die
Donald Trump has signed an executive order to promote "beautiful" federal buildings, attempting to do away with "ugly" modernist styles in favour of classical architecture.
Some have questioned the timing of the order and the President's priorities, as the US continues to record more than 3000 deaths per day from COVID-19.
The country's devastating third wave is raging out of control despite the vaccine rollout, with hospitals in the worst-hit states overflowing with seriously ill patients.
The executive order, a draft of which was leaked to the media in February, takes particular issue with Brutalist architecture - characterised by massive, block-like poured-concrete structures - that began to emerge in the 1950s after the federal government changed its official policy to discourage traditional designs in favour of contemporary ones.
In contrast with America's "cherished" iconic landmarks like the White House and Capitol building, which were modelled on the architecture of ancient Athens and Rome, the order says many in the public found the newer buildings "unappealing".
Some, such as the Hubert H. Humphrey Department of Health and Human Services Building and the Robert C. Weaver Department of Housing and Urban Development Building, "were controversial, attracting widespread criticism for their Brutalist designs", it adds.
"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 order says.
"They should also be visibly identifiable as civic buildings and should be selected with input from the local community."
The order applies to all federal courthouses and agency headquarters, all federal public buildings in the District of Columbia, and all other federal buildings that cost more than $US50 million.
The President blames the General Services Administration for continuing the trend of ugly buildings, despite the establishment of a Design Excellence Program in 1994 in response to "widespread criticism that the buildings it had been commissioning lacked distinction".
"Under the Design Excellence Program, GSA has often selected designs by prominent architects with little regard for local input or regional aesthetic preferences," the order says.
"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 cites San Francisco's Federal Building, "praised by elite architects" but which "many San Franciscans consider … one of the ugliest structures in their city". "It is time to update the policies guiding federal architecture to address these problems and ensure that architects designing federal buildings serve their clients, the American people," it says.
"Classical and other traditional architecture, as practised 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."
The order defines classical architecture as the "architectural tradition derived from the forms, principles, and vocabulary of the architecture of Greek and Roman antiquity", encompassing styles including Neoclassical, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Beaux-Arts and Art Deco.
While that does not mean the exclusion of other styles of architecture "where appropriate", the order says "care must be taken" to ensure federal buildings "command respect of the general public for their beauty and visual embodiment of America's ideals".
In the District of Columbia, in particular, "classical architecture shall be the preferred and default architecture for federal public buildings absent exceptional factors necessitating another kind of architecture".
The order states that if the GSA wishes to approve a design from a different style, "including Brutalist or Deconstructivist architecture or any design derived from or related to these types of architecture", the Administrator is required to notify the President.
They must provide a "detailed explanation of why the Administrator believes selecting such design is justified, with particular focus on whether such design is as beautiful and reflective of the dignity, enterprise, vigour, and stability of the American system of self-government as alternative designs of comparable cost using preferred architecture".
The National Civic Art Society, a not-for-profit that promotes classical art and architecture, welcomed Mr Trump's executive order.
The group said after the order was first proposed earlier this year, a poll over more than 2000 people found nearly three quarters were in favour of traditional architecture for federal office buildings and US courthouses.
"Americans have long understood that classical architecture is not only beautiful, it embodies the key values of our representative government," NCAS president Justin Shubow said in a statement.
"Yet since the mid-20th century, Modernist mandarins controlling government architecture have been forcing ugly designs upon us. On Friday, President Trump stood firm for tradition and beauty in public architecture, and for the heartfelt desires of the American people."
Given the daily death toll from COVID19, this is like George W Bush signing an executive order about federal architecture in the middle of the 9/11 attacks. https://t.co/wC8iSb7bkm— Jeremy Hobson (@jeremyhobson) December 21, 2020
Originally published as Trump's bizarre order as thousands die
Where's the executive order banning toilets that you have to flush 15 times?— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 21, 2020
Next up, an executive order mandating all poems must rhyme. https://t.co/RE6qGmfnP5— Travis Nichols (@travisjnichols) December 21, 2020
this is what every government building under the trump executive order is going to look like pic.twitter.com/LTjCl8yiZi— josh terry (@JoshhTerry) December 21, 2020