President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday promoting the importance of “beautiful” federal buildings ― specifically, ones featuring classical instead of modern architecture.
“President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson consciously modeled the most important buildings in Washington, D.C., on the classical architecture of ancient Athens and Rome,” the order states. “They sought to use classical architecture to visually connect our contemporary Republic with the antecedents of democracy in classical antiquity, reminding citizens not only of their rights but also their responsibilities in maintaining and perpetuating its institutions.”
Trump’s order lists several structures that it says are characterized by this appreciation for classical architecture, including the White House, the U.S. Capitol Building, the Supreme Court and the Lincoln Memorial.
Such traditional designs were replaced after World War II by more modern buildings, the order says, listing the likes of the Hubert H. Humphrey Building (headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services) and the Robert C. Weaver Building (headquarters of the Department of Housing and Urban Development).
Both structures were built in the Brutalist architectural tradition and designed by famed architect Marcel Breuer. But according to Trump’s order, such buildings were “often unpopular with Americans.”
Instead of erecting more Brutalist buildings in the future ― or, worse, Deconstructivist designs, which the order says “subvert the traditional values of architecture” ― the president encourages designs from the “Neoclassical, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Beaux-Arts, and Art Deco” traditions.
“In Washington, D.C., Federal architecture has become a discordant mixture of classical and modernist designs,” the order reads. “… 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.”
Rumblings of Trump’s preference for more traditional architecture appeared earlier this year in February when the magazine Architectural Record saw a preliminary draft of the order, reportedly entitled “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.”
At the time, the website Archinect reported that the order’s promotion of so-called traditional buildings was similar to discussions in online design circles where “traditional architecture enthusiasts, white suprematists [sic], and other groups have aligned their shared passions for classical aesthetics with sordid nationalist politics to consistently weaponize classical motifs under a variety of nativist mantles.”
A number of voices chimed in on social media this week to criticize Trump’s aesthetic concerns after the executive order was officially signed.
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