A culture’s art and architecture tells much about its worldview. It’s no coincidence then, that as our culture descends into nihilism, so goes the concept of beauty — but President Donald Trump is doing something about it.
Trump just signed an executive order to banish modern utilitarian architectural designs for new federal buildings in favor of a return to styles more in line with the aesthetic the founding fathers favored, Breitbart reported. Future buildings would now need to adhere to classical rather than modernist styles that are have become the default.
In the order “Neoclassical, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Beaux-Arts, and Art Deco” are the preferred types. The more modern trends like brutalism and deconstructivism would be limited, with the order saying the latter “subverts the traditional values of architecture through such features as fragmentation, disorder, discontinuity, distortion, skewed geometry, and the appearance of instability.”
The order went on to note that the founding fathers “wanted America’s public buildings to inspire the American people and encourage civic virtue” with the use of neoclassical construction. “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. 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.”
That trend reversed when new buildings erected from around midcentury onward jettisoned traditional architecture and replaced them with the steel-and-concrete eyesores now favored by modernists. “The new buildings ranged from the undistinguished to designs even [U.S. General Services Administration] now admits many in the public found unappealing,” the order said. “In Washington, D.C., new federal buildings visibly clashed with the existing classical architecture.”
The order cited examples of specific buildings that are widely panned for their ugly, incongruous designs. “Some of these structures, 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.”
Here’s final Trump executive order on “beautiful” architecture. Criticizes HUD & HHS buildings, SF Federal building; cites Tuscaloosa & Corpus Christi buildings (pictured) as models. Calls out brutalist & deconstructivist architecture as unacceptable. https://t.co/qdLhzYMEfZ pic.twitter.com/5al48GjtEM
— Yonah Freemark (@yfreemark) December 21, 2020
The order stated that designs for new federal buildings “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 will establish the President’s Council on Improving Federal Civic Architecture to make sure this new standard thoughtfully considered, though would not be required if proper reasoning was provided to the council.
The structures erected by a civilization say a great deal about what the people building them believed about their world. Architecture based on classical style is meant to convey reverence for the past, a regard for the wisdom of western civilization, and of course objective beauty. The modern aesthetic is a rejection of all of that, and at the most basic level, simply unappealing. It’s about time someone recognized why this issue is important, and is also willing to do something about it.