In What Style Should We Build?

Everyone in the political world has suddenly decided that they have very strong opinions about architecture now that the Trump administration is floating an executive order to mandate “classical” architecture in federal buildings.

The draft executive order, reported last week by Architectural Record, “would require rewriting the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture, issued in 1962, to ensure that ‘the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style’ for new and upgraded federal buildings.”

Entitled “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” the draft order argues that the founding fathers embraced the classical models of “democratic Athens” and “republican Rome” for the capital’s early buildings because the style symbolized the new nation’s “self-governing ideals.”

The full text of the proposed order can be found here. It would be enforced by a President’s Committee for the Re-Beautification of Federal Architecture, to which President Trump would appoint—well, the people who have been pushing for this executive order.

So this is an attempt to create an official style of architecture dictated by Donald Trump and his hangers-on. Or maybe just by Trump: the executive order notes right off the bat that “Washington and Jefferson, both amateur architects, personally oversaw the competitions to design the Capitol Building and the White House.” You can bet this was written to appeal to Trump’s vision of himself as Amateur-Architect-in-Chief.

This prospect has set off a spate of poorly informed comments on the history of art and architecture by people who seem to have developed an interest in the topic a week ago when it became the latest chess piece in their partisan battles.

This in itself—the subordination of art to politics—is the larger story here.

Read the rest at The Dispatch.

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