Trump Signs Executive Order Promoting Classical Architecture for Federal Buildings

Trump Signs Executive Order Promoting Classical Architecture for Federal Buildings
The White House on March 8, 2018. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Bowen Xiao

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Dec. 21 that recommends classical architecture as the “preferred and default architecture” for public federal government buildings in Washington.

The order criticizes what’s become known as the “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture,” which largely replaced traditional designs with modernist ones in the 1950s. The policy “implicitly discouraged classical and other traditional designs known for their beauty,” instead pushing for so-called “contemporary” designs.

The order makes mention of the “brutalist” style of architecture—characterized by huge block-like structures with geometric designs and large-scale use of exposed poured concrete—as being the cause of widespread criticism for the design of many modern buildings.

“I think the classical architecture of Greece and Rome is very wholesome, and it brings out the inherent order, structure, and beauty that humans crave,” an administration official who played a role in the order’s creation told The Epoch Times.

“I think the ultimate destroyer of human good is chaos. And I think that’s what brutalism is—it’s chaos. There’s no order. It’s just a bunch of concrete. It’s not nurturing.”

A recent survey commissioned by the National Civic Art Society (NCAS) and conducted by the nonpartisan polling firm The Harris Poll sought to find out Americans’ preferences for federal architecture.
Details on the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 2, 2020. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Details on the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 2, 2020. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

The poll, which surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. adults, found that nearly three-quarters of Americans (72 percent), including majorities across political, racial/ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic lines, prefer traditional architecture when it comes to federal government buildings and courthouses.

“If you take 100 million Americans and put them in front of a brutalist building versus the U.S. Capitol, they’re going to say they like the U.S. Capitol probably seven to three,” said the official.

“The fact of the matter is that classical architecture makes you proud to be a human being and makes you want to live more fully.

“Brutalism and what the architectural establishment does is make you feel less than human. That’s what you feel when you stand outside the FBI building.”

According to the order, a new body, the Council on Improving Federal Architecture, will be formed. The council will submit a report recommending updates to the General Services Administration (GSA) policies on improving federal buildings so they uplift people. The council will terminate on Sept. 30, 2021, unless extended by the president.

“Think of classical architecture like your mother that held you at four years old when you were scared,” the official said. “And brutalism is like a stern father that never tells you he’s proud of you.”

Justin Shubow, president of NCAS, said in a Dec. 21 statement that the design of government buildings “should reflect the aesthetic and symbolic preferences of the people they are built to serve—namely, classical and traditional architecture.”

“Yet since the mid-20th century, Modernist mandarins controlling government architecture have been forcing ugly designs upon us,” Shubow said. “The National Civic Art Society applauds President Trump for signing this Executive Order, and we look forward to seeing the beautiful buildings that will now become part of his legacy.”

In Washington, buildings with a classical design such as the White House, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Department of the Treasury, and the Lincoln Memorial “have become iconic symbols of our system of government,” the order states.

The GSA, under the Design Excellence Program, often chose designs “by prominent architects with little regard for local input or regional aesthetic preferences,” which resulted in federal architecture sometimes impressing the architectural elite “but not the American people who the buildings are meant to serve.” It notes that many of these new federal buildings “are not even visibly identifiable as civic buildings.”

Bowen Xiao was a New York-based reporter at The Epoch Times. He covers national security, human trafficking and U.S. politics.
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