A new executive order from outgoing President Trump attempts to codify some of the real estate mogul’s feelings about architecture into federal law: With a few exceptions, it states, “the Federal Government has largely stopped building beautiful buildings.” Going forward, the US should make buildings that convey to “the general public the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of America’s system of self-government,” it reads.
In Washington, DC, the order reads, “classical architecture shall be the preferred and default architecture for Federal public buildings absent exceptional factors necessitating another kind of architecture.” Indeed, the order calls for the administrator of the General Services Administration to notify the President of the United States if the government decides to build any structure that deviates from “traditional and classical architecture,” mentioning “Brutalist or Deconstructivist architecture” in particular as something the President should definitely hear about.
Some advocates of classical architecture were appalled by news earlier this year that Trump planned such an order: “Who decides whether a building is classical or not?” said Allan Greenberg, who redesigned the Treaty Room Suite and other office spaces in the US State Department. Others heard a dog-whistle to the right in Trump’s ideas about what makes a building beautiful, or at least a faux populism.
Indeed, the order says government buildings should appeal to the “general public,” which it specifically defines as not including “artists, architects, engineers, art or architecture critics, instructors or professors of art or architecture, or members of the building industry” or anyone “affiliated with any interest group, trade association, or any other organization whose membership is financially affected by decisions involving the design, construction, or remodeling of public buildings.”
Two buildings in the District come in for particular scorn in the order: the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, HQ for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Hubert H. Humphrey Building, which is home to the Department of Health and Human Services. There’s no mention of the brutalist FBI building located near Trump’s DC hotel, which he hates and repeatedly pushed to redevelop in its current spot rather than allow it to move to the DC suburbs, which could make an attractive parcel of land available to another developer.