Donald Trump mandates ‘classical architecture’ as the preferred federal building style

Trump signs executive orders on transparency in federal guidance and enforcement

At this point in my life, I don’t care that much about architecture? Sure, I like to watch home reno shows and I enjoy a good Cape Cod-style home, but do I really care what federal buildings look like? Aren’t there more important things to care about when it comes to federal buildings other than “style”? Well, for some reason, Donald Trump cares. In the last days of his lame-duck presidency, Trump continues to throw some weird sh-t at us. Most of it will be undone – rather easily – once Joe Biden comes into the White House, especially the executive orders. Like, if Trump thinks he can change sh-t by EO, then obviously President Biden can change it back by EO. So it is with this issue: Trump has signed an executive order mandating that “classical architecture” as the “preferred” style for all new federal buildings. WTF?

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday making classical architecture the preferred style for federal buildings in Washington, a White House official said Monday. The presidential action stops short of mandating that all new federal buildings are built in a classical style, saying merely that they must be “beautiful.”

Under the order, a “Council for Improving Federal Civic Architecture” will be formed to recommended updates to the General Services Administration’s architectural guidelines. The administration has been writing the executive order for months, and an early draft that would have banned modernist design prompted condemnation from the American Institute of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“Architecture should be designed for the specific communities that it serves, reflecting our rich nation’s diverse places, thought, culture and climates,” the AIA said in a statement. “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.”

But the White House official said that polling showed a vast majority of Americans prefer traditional designs and said some modern structures weren’t easily identifiable as public buildings. New construction should command respect by the general public and not just architectural elites, the official said.

The executive order will also require the GSA to seek design input from the general public and future staff of federal buildings before choosing a design. The agency has already begun placing an emphasis on classical style. In August, a solicitation for a new federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, told architects that a traditional look would be the default style “absent special extenuating factors necessitating another style.” Similar language was included in a earlier solicitation for a courthouse in Huntsville, Alabama.

Some Democrats have criticized the administration’s effort to mandate a shared and classic architectural design across federal buildings, with Congresswoman Dina Titus, a Nevada Democrat, introducing legislation that would prohibit the GSA from blocking modernist designs.

“Imposing a preferred architectural style for federal facilities runs counter to our nation’s democratic traditions,” Titus said in a letter to GSA Administrator Emily Murphy. “Attempting to implement this misguided mandate from Washington, D.C., by circumventing Congress and gutting decades of GSA policy and practice without any public notice or hearing is even worse.”

[From Bloomberg]

I’m genuinely not trying to piss off Big Architecture, but when it comes to federal buildings, shouldn’t security and cost concerns override any conversation about style? Sure, I don’t want every new federal building to look like a grey box, nor do I want every new federal building to look like damn Monticello. There has to be a happy medium here and it should not involve Donald Trump imposing his own “make it beautiful in my eyes” executive order. Anyway, yeah, I guess this is one of those things that Biden will have to spend five minutes on when he comes into the White House. Sh-t, every new federal building is going to look like an Amtrak station, right?

Trump Daily Coronavirus Press Briefing

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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50 Responses to “Donald Trump mandates ‘classical architecture’ as the preferred federal building style”

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  1. MaryContrary says:

    Oh, I see GSA Emily Murphy’s hands all over this piece of crap too. Ridiculous.

  2. jules says:

    I mean, of all the things he’s done since he’s been in office, this might be the smartest. And that’s not saying much.

  3. Sumodo1 says:

    I see what this is about: Trump wants to design the Federal Prison he’ll live in, along with grifters like Javanka and Rudy Giuiliani! Just copy some British Victorian “gaols” and “almshouses.”

  4. Becks1 says:

    Well, this surely is a big priority right now.

    Look, I work for a large federal agency and most of the buildings at our main complex ARE ugly. But they’re also functional and considering my agency is based in a suburb, classical buildings would look incredibly out of place.

    My particular building (not at the main campus) is fairly new and while its modern I think its cool – lots of glass, curved main wall, etc. But inside, outside of the main lobby – once I’m in my cube I’m in my cube, and I don’t care what the building looks like.

  5. Natters5 says:

    Donald Trump in his last days of his presidency reminds me of Hitler’s last days. Taking his anger out among all around him and worried about ridiculous things (for Hitler it was a movie about Medieval Germany and how the movie makers were messing up the historical accuracy). I can’t wait till he starts fading from the psyche of the world. Yes there will always be terrible people to come and fill in the void but to have Trump, (like Paris Hilton) become a distant memory is one reason I am looking forward to 2021.

  6. Jc says:

    The additional orders also say that a classical flag should be on top, something with a Southern Cross style.

  7. Esmom says:

    Some people were commenting on Twitter that this is another nod to white supremacy. I don’t know. Wouldn’t surprise me, though.

    What I do know is we just passed 18 million cases of Covid and cases are still on the upswing…and he’s worried about architecture? True to form, I guess.

  8. NightOwl says:

    An EO can easily be rescinded by Biden right?

    I read somewhere that this is a gift to his friends in construction because the “classic” designs require more concrete and particular types of construction resources.

  9. SamC says:

    I have an interest in architecture and do sort of get this. At least he didn’t declare gilded gold is mandated in every federal building going forward, or big old USA in gold letters all over it. Have you seen pictures of his homes?!

  10. Astrid says:

    how many more federal buildings are in the pipeline to be built? I”m a federal employee working in the suburbs and my building is a single story GSA leased space.

    • BeanieBean says:

      I know years ago the Forest Service was told to vacate leased buildings and move back into its already-owned buildings or move into existing federal buildings. They were also told, via federal law, to sell off underused administrative sites, so…. Just another day in cloud-cuckoo land.

  11. Wilma says:

    How very fascist of him. Classical style is short hand for the preferred fascist/nazi building style and art style. Anything modern is considered unpatriotic and Jewish. His Neo-nazi clique will get it.

  12. Ariel says:

    My mom died of covid.
    Super glad he has time to worry about architecture.

  13. Alexis Dietz says:

    LOL. What a Mein Führer-esque move.

  14. lucy2 says:

    I’m an architect. I love historic buildings, classical architecture, and fitting into the context of a neighborhood. I almost went into historic preservation with a huge firm.
    That said, this is just stupid.
    He’s in office for 28 more days, including the holidays. Biden can and will undo this with the swipe of a pen. Any project this can effect can just take a brief pause and then continue as they want.
    The Obama admin. enforced sustainability rules. That should be the main focus. Not a tacky real estate fake billionaire’s idea of “beautiful”, because we’ve all seen what his fake gold covered taste is.
    Also, AIA? Thanks for jacking up everyone’s professional dues again during a pandemic.

    • Drea says:

      You know, you don’t NEED to be an AIA member. I’ve always thought the benefits never justified the fees. But that’s just me and my two cents, perhaps you get more out of it.

      • lucy2 says:

        I really don’t get anything out of it, to be honest, and the fees are out of control. Mine are over $700 this year! I occasionally go to the convention, but that’s about it.

    • Traveler says:

      Another long-time commercial architect here (btw, not an AIA member).
      First of all this guy wouldn’t know a piece of architecture if Vitruvius himself threw a Corinthian capital in his face. He’s advocating for theme park buildings; not architecture. Slap on some polystyrene doric columns and call it classical architecture. Why not it works in Las Vegas.
      This is just another feeble, last ditch effort at creating the dictator wannabe image by mandating what rises to the level of “architecture” just like his role models Mussolini and Hitler did. We still live with their legacy of angry, ugly, brutalist monstrosities.
      As others have said, if this is the shiny toy used to keep him from doing more damage, than whatever. He sure as hell has never cared about the sick, dying, and economically suffering citizens of this country. It certainly won’t change now.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    I’ve been in the arts and architecture business my whole life. You can make a cost effective, safe building for any price level. I’m actually a big fan of modern architecture, there are places where it works beautifully. A big key is to make the design work with the environment – landscape, existing buildings, etc. you can’t just plop a glass box into a row of existing classic buildings, but you can certainly nuance a more modern design to coordinate. I bet an earlier commenter is correct that he is doing this for the construction industry and/or materials importers. Steel and other base materials costs have skyrocketed across the board with Trumps tariffs.

  16. Veronica S. says:

    It’s literally just signing something to feel powerful, I’m sure. My whole thing is that I doubt this even needed to be an order – DC has a very specific look to it, so it’s not like a designer would intentionally stray from that and risk impacting overall aesthetics.

  17. Ainsley7 says:

    This feels like an attempt, by his advisors, to keep Trump in line by keeping him “busy.” I think they’re genuinely afraid of him at this point because it really does sound like Trump believes what he is saying now. In the past, he at least knew he was lying. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more silly executive orders to come. I mean, his mental state is clearly deteriorating. They need to do something to hold him together. Pence has to agree to enacting the 25th amendment. He is all in on the grift. His nephew is VP of Jared’s shell company. He’s making money off this just like the Trumps. He’s not going to suddenly grow a conscious. So, keeping him busy with stuff like this is the only option. If this is what it takes to keep Trump from inciting violence, I’m fine banning modern and boring architecture and any other nonsense they have him sign.

    • Esmom says:

      I didn’t think of that but that makes sense. JFC, though. It’s like bringing a big of toys and treats on an airplane to keep a toddler from melting down. I wish someone, anyone, would finally invoke the 25th Amendment.

    • lucy2 says:

      That is a really good point. And his niece Mary has described that’s pretty much what they did with his father, when his mental abilities diminished, they gave him fake work to do so he believed he was still going.
      If that’s the case, I’d rather him do stupid stuff like this that can be very easily and quickly undone, than God knows what else he’s been cooking up.

    • Nic919 says:

      His mental state was a mess for years so all this jumping around to placate him shows just how much the GOP enabled him. They could have had him removed last year and have Pence enact their laws without the crazy and the obvious grifting. Now they have given him and his family power so that there are serious discussions of his grifter kids running for Senate.

  18. paranormalgirl says:

    How delightfully facist of him.

  19. elfie says:

    LOLOLOLOL, this from a tacky moron who builds hideous, gaudy, nouveau-riche apartment blocks and craps in a golden toilet. Meanwhile a pandemic is raging, people are out of work and about to be evicted and THIS is what his attention is on. JFC.

  20. Miranda says:

    Once upon a time, Trump was in possession of a beautiful building: the Art Deco Bonwit Teller on 5th Avenue. It had some amazing limestone sculptures near the top, which he promised to the Met. Then they were jackhammered to shit, and he razed the entire building to construct his monument to “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap,” Trump Tower. Sooo…

    • lucy2 says:

      I remember reading about that as well. Such a shame. He’s always been terrible in so many ways.

    • BeanieBean says:

      I just googled that. Wow. That…that clearly indicates he has no really knowledge or interest in architecture as an esthetic.

    • The Recluse says:

      Yep, if he wants to decree beautiful buildings he needs to start with that fugly building that is an well known eyesore in NYC – the one that has his overrated name slapped on the front of it.

  21. Porter says:

    Obviously this kind of thing should be low on the priority list right now. The built environment is so important though, and affects us psychologically in imperceptible ways. Style (when it comes to art and architecture, anyway) is not shallow and meaningless. It’s an expression of a person’s or a group’s values and aspirations. A soulless, cheaply built, unadorned modular building is an expression of certain economic and cultural realities, just as much as Neoclassicism is an expression of imperialism. But a federal mandate on style? Yeah, that’s fascism.

  22. Alarmjaguar says:

    I mean, I’ve definitely lamented how far federal buildings have fallen in the functionality over beauty standards (our modern PO are so ugly!), but that’s in part b/c the government bids out these projects and focuses on cost as opposed to looks. If Americans care about making beautiful federal buildings (classical-style or otherwise), they’d contact their Congresspeople about it. Great point to whomever mentioned that in any case, we should focus on sustainability. AND, I’m more worried about saving what’s left of our Post Office as an actual agency rather than worrying about what the buildings look like. Ugh, he’s the worst.

  23. Drea says:

    It may not seem like much, but requiring a specific architectural style is one of the hallmarks of dictatorship. That way they can create ‘grand’ buildings to be basically monuments to themselves, and therefore create a legacy. It’s bonkers, but it’s all intertwined.

    That said, this specific order was more request than decree, and he’s grasping at straws in his last days.

  24. Holly hobby says:

    I think this is his staff’s way of giving the baby crayons and paper so they can go on with their work. However, how many fed bldgs will be built? The existing inventory is good enough. Dumb harmless EO that Joe can cancel.

    They built a sustainable fed bldg in my hometown during the Clinton years. It’s considered a green building. That was the last time anything was built by the feds

  25. Shoo fly says:

    This is a huge deal on the far right. As other posters have pointed out, it’s Nazi esque, anti-Semitic and anti liberal. They have been fighting for this throughout the administration. To them this is “white” architecture.

  26. BeanieBean says:

    How very Mussolini-like. And they’ve been working on this for months? During a pandemic??? Priorities, I guess.

  27. Seraphina says:

    How about he mandate working environments for government employees (federal and state) be suitable and up to par with OCEA standards. But no, let’s focus on how something looks on the outside which is meaningless. Typical Trump

  28. Annetommy says:

    Isn’t Melania supposed to be an architect? I expect that ‘genius’ visa recipient advised him.

  29. Leah says:

    Hitler wanted to build a city once and it was all classical architecture. So I get what he’s saying, big time. However he will be gone in under a month so what does it matter.