President Pimp Daddy Gonna Approve All The Federal Architecture
You might've missed this during all the other crap this week, but Donald Trump is now dabbling in architecture. He needs a hobby to help him wind down after a stressful day of treason. The president is preparing an executive order that would mandate a "classical style" for federal buildings in Washington DC and other parts of the country. This would discourage boring, elitist "modern" design, or boring, elitist "Art Deco," like the Bonwit Teller building whose friezes Trump famously (and illegally) demolished. The group that actively appealed to Trump's cultural resentment is the National Civic Art Society. The non-profit believes contemporary architecture has fostered an environment that's "degraded and dehumanizing." Degenerate, even. If that's true, Trump's prolonged presence in DC is the problem, but sure, let's blame the buildings.
The society's chair, Marion Smith, texted -- yeah, really -- this statement to the New York Times:
For too long architectural elites and bureaucrats have derided the idea of beauty, blatantly ignored public opinions on style, and have quietly spent taxpayer money constructing ugly, expensive, and inefficient buildings. This executive order gives voice to the 99 percent — the ordinary American people who do not like what our government has been building.
The classical style is influenced by Greek and Roman architecture. The most famous (or at least my favorite) examples in DC include the US Treasury Building, the National Gallery of Art, the US Capitol, and the White House, where Trump currently squats. I enjoy buildings in that style as much as the next person, especially if that person is my wife. Neither of us are that pissed over any buildings not constructed in the classical style. We also don't trust the man who willingly lived in this room to make aesthetic appraisals.
I mean ... damn.
The authors of the executive order hope to have it ready for Trump sometime next month. The order would discourage modern forms of architecture -- like the Brutalist FBI building, which Trump hates -- and promote classical design. If actual, professional architects want to design a building in a style other than classic, they'd have to first receive approval from a presidential "re-beautification" committee. God help us if Ivanka Trump is on this committee.
Architects roundly hate this idea, especially because the order would override the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture. Former New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan crafted the principles in 1962 as an official in John F. Kennedy's administration. They actively discouraged an "official style" for federal buildings. Moynihan contended that "design must flow from the architectural profession to the government. And not vice versa." The Trump order, however, would dictate style to the architectural profession. I can envision the "re-beautification" committee rejecting proposals because there aren't enough Melanias on pianos.
Trump pretends he's religious, but organized religion and outright hypocrisy are a chocolate and peanut butter combination. This is artistic expression, and unlike Trump's rotting soul, we have to actually look at federal buildings. The American Institute of Architects hopes to convince Trump to stick to to what he knows best, which is nothing.
Even if we replace Trump with a president who isn't a crass, vulgar blight on the nation, the executive order could force architects to consider short-term political whims over longterm artistic goals. Thom Mayne, a California architect and Pritzker Prize winner, expressed his concerns with a poetic eloquence that would make Trump's ears bleed.
We are a society that is linked to openness of thought, to looking forward with optimism and confidence at a world that is always in the process of becoming. Architecture's obligation is to maintain this forward thinking stance.
The National Civic Art Society's objectives are inherently regressive, and unfortunately, they have a champion in Donald Trump.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."