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AESTHETICS BY DECREE: TRUMP’S PROPOSAL ON “MAKING FEDERAL BUILDINGS BEAUTIFUL AGAIN”

What follows is a guest post by Jay Miller.

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The neoclassical Lincoln Memorial, designed by Henry Bacon (1922) [source]

Recently, a draft proposal of a presidential executive order was obtained and printed by the Chicago Sun-Times. Under the banner of “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” the leaked document effectively mandates the classical style of architecture for all federal buildings in the U.S. It seeks to right the wrongs of modernist architecture by officially proclaiming the classical style of architecture “the preferred and default style” for federal buildings. The proposal proceeds by first identifying the culprits: It blames the federal government for “largely abandon[ing] traditional, classical designs” in the 1950s; it accuses the General Services Administration (GSA) of overseeing “aesthetic failures”; even more specifically, it takes aim at the “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture,” drafted in 1962 by an aide of the Kennedy administration, for having “implicitly discouraged” classical and other designs “known for their beauty.” Yet, the real target of the proposal (henceforth MFFBA) are the Brutalist and Deconstructivist styles of modernist architecture, which it explicitly equates with the loss of beauty in American federal architecture over the past seventy years or so. In practical terms, this amounts to a federal mandate for classical architecture and a de facto moratorium on modernist architecture for any federal building costing more than $50 million. This includes any renovations or design upgrades to buildings of equal value. And any proposed deviations from classical and traditional designs must be vetted by the “President’s Committee for the Re-Beautification of Federal Architecture,” and must ultimately be submitted to the President for review prior to final approval.

I’ll go ahead and dispense with any pretense to political neutrality here. Because, really, the first step in taking MFBBA seriously is to acknowledge the veritable feast of ironies and absurdities offered up in the space of its mere seven pages. Continue reading