President Donald Trump, who knows a thing or two about building architecture, has often remarked how beautiful he finds the classical and traditional styles of architecture for federal buildings as compared to the far less visually-appealing modernist designs that have been in vogue in recent decades.
Now, by way of an executive order, Trump is encouraging the federal government to grant preference to the classical and traditional styles — reminiscent of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as medieval Europe — over modernist designs when new federal buildings are erected or older ones are refurbished, Bloomberg reported.
In the executive order issued Monday on “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture,” Trump noted the “importance of beautiful public architecture” and how, from ancient Greece and Rome to the Middle Ages and Renaissance period, “public buildings were designed to be sturdy and useful, and also to beautify public spaces and inspire civic pride.”
That notion was shared by America’s Founding Fathers — and Washington, D.C. was specifically modeled to resemble ancient Greek and Roman architecture. “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,” the order states.
That was the case until the 1950s and 1960s, when the more traditional designs were cast aside in favor of modernist ones. This was codified in 1962 by the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture that were adopted by the General Services Administration and “implicitly discouraged classical and other traditional designs known for their beauty, declaring instead that the Government should use ‘contemporary’ designs.”
The federal buildings that been built with those contemporary designs have been criticized as “undistinguished” and “unappealing” and were noted to have “visibly clashed with the existing classical architecture.” Indeed, with very few exceptions, Trump lamented that “the Federal Government has largely stopped building beautiful buildings. In Washington, D.C., Federal architecture has become a discordant mixture of classical and modernist designs.”
Classical and traditional styles
Trump’s order called for an update of the GSA’s Guiding Principles, insisting that new 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.”
As such, the classical and traditional architecture styles “should be encouraged instead of discouraged.” Going one step further specifically for Washington, D.C., the classical and traditional styles “shall be the preferred and default architecture for Federal public buildings absent exceptional factors necessitating another kind of architecture.”
To help make that goal a reality, the order established the President’s Council on Improving Federal Civic Architecture that would be tasked to submit a report and recommend updates and changes to GSA architectural policies.The GSA administrator would also be required to notify the president and render an acceptable explanation if classical or traditional styles were not chosen as the architectural design of new federal buildings.
Of course, as with anything said or done by President Trump, the order was immediately criticized as an unnecessary overreach and imposition, according to Newsmax.
“Communities should have the right and responsibility to decide for themselves what architectural design best fits their needs,” the American Institute of Architects CEO Robert Ivy said in a statement.
He continued, “Though we are appalled with the administration’s decision to move forward with the design mandate, we are happy the order isn’t as far reaching as previously thought.”