"Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again"
February 6, 2020 10:03 AM   Subscribe

 
Donald Trump doesn't give a flying fuck about "the classical tradition in architecture, urbanism, and their allied arts". All the proof you need is to see what he did to the Commodore Hotel, now the Grand Hyatt New York.
posted by SansPoint at 10:08 AM on February 6 [24 favorites]


Here's the thing. I like classicizing architecture. I hate brutalism and the international style. But what I really, really hate is fascists. And fascists love neoclassical bullshit. If they've poisoned it, we should move over to the Federal style or Richardsonian Romanesque, which looks nice and haunted and like it belongs in this hell country.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:23 AM on February 6 [82 favorites]


I suppose it's too much to hope that some smartass runs an Albert Speer design past him for approval, and he goes on camera extolling it's beauty and power.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:23 AM on February 6 [19 favorites]


Countess Elena: ...Richardsonian Romanesque, which looks nice and haunted and like it belongs in this hell country.

Hey! I used to work at SBRA Architects a.k.a. Shepley Bulfinch, who proudly carry on H.H. Richardson's tradition most of 150 years later.

The Fat Man did beautiful work that still serves America and Americans, and I don't want him co-opted by fascist shitbags. Heck, I proposed to my wife in front of Trinity Church!

Feel free to go with the poured-cement crowd, though: those guys suck.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:58 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Neoclassicism's deep roots in empire and white supremacy make it the perennial house style for fascists. That's the entire explanation.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:03 AM on February 6 [30 favorites]


I got halfway through this and literally cannot-even'ed out of the tab cause I just. Cannot. With more stupid shit.
posted by odinsdream at 11:19 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


The fascists got a handle on modernism as well, but just in Italy.
posted by LionIndex at 11:25 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


I'm trying to imagine the local dmv made over by trumpco architectural design consultants.
Flaking, cheap gold paint everywhere; randomly scattered fibreglass pillars, haphazardly painted to look like marble from a distance; poorly reproduced portraits of the dear leader in plastic frames modeled on those used for Dutch masterpieces.
Really though, the characteristic American architectural style is Deserted Strip Mall. Just stick a few fake pillars outside and it'll be fine.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 11:31 AM on February 6 [8 favorites]


Too bad Leni Riefenstahl is dead
posted by growabrain at 11:36 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Trump is the The Thief in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. The silverware is shiny but it bends so easily.
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:42 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Rehashing some stuff I said on twitter about this: I *just* finished reading a book about the Bauhaus, and I'm struck by the similarity between this and the Nazis' antipathy towards Bauhaus architecture for being decadently modern and not grand enough. Not that we're short of Nazi parallels, but here's another one.

A small hopeful addendum to that, though: in the long view, the Bauhaus pulled an Obi-Wan Kenobi and became more powerful than Hitler could possibly imagine when he struck them down. Repression doesn't always win.
posted by COBRA! at 11:46 AM on February 6 [11 favorites]


I prefer my architecture to be functional. I have no need for a Gothic Revival patio cover anymore than I need an Art Deco toilet. My apartment is surrounded with wood chip, sawdust and glue faux shiplap, complete with stamped woodgrain. Pointless. Function before form please...
posted by jim in austin at 11:56 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


after READING THE DAMN ARTICLE, Trump just slapped his name on this. It is more about creating things that more represented of where they are actually being built, and being made out of stable, well tested, EASILY MAINTAINED, materials, without going full brutalist or just strange and offputting.
posted by thefileclerk at 12:00 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


PSA: A main point of the article is that the title is completely wrong. "You could be misled ... into thinking that the President ... wants to get involved with design decisions... I've found no evidence that that is what is going on..." "Justin Shubow ... is ... president of ... a D.C.-based nonprofit [that] really doesn't like modern stuff..."

I agree with some of the criticisms - like of the Eisenhower Memorial - but I'm wary of anything that would have prevented construction of beautiful icons like the National Gallery's East Wing or the African American History Museum.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:04 PM on February 6 [8 favorites]


He really just wants to slap a giant "TRUMP" on all the buildings.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:09 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]


You know, this thread is helpful for one thing, which is that I ought to get off my ass and go see some of the Richardsonian Romanesque stuff around here. I grew up around some of it, and it's awesome, so I should take advantage of living in New England and having a high concentration of it around. Hell, there's a church right down the street from where I work in Andover. So thanks for suggesting that, Countess Elena!
posted by kevinbelt at 12:13 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


The title of an old Doonesbury book (Goodreads) that seems appropriate here.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:18 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the article is not "OMG Don-buildings everywhere."

Bauhaus stuff is amazing, but the problem was the designs were way far ahead of the engineering and construction capabilities of those times. So you ended up with greenhouse-hot places with leaky roofs and windows. We do it much better these days.

And keep your hands off my Brutalism!

(can you picture what Don's presidential library will be?)
posted by SoberHighland at 12:30 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this is Justin Shubow's baby, and it's being pushed through as "classical" only top-down goverment!! oversight. I read the NY times article mentioned in the TFA, and it has this quote:
The effort to rewrite the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture is considered among the most egregious features of the order. The principles, part of 1962 document by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the New York senator, who as a Kennedy administration official was heavily involved in design issues in the capital, have endured for over half a century, in part because they discouraged promoting an official style: “The design must flow from the architectural profession to the government. And not vice versa.”

The administration’s draft order, which was obtained by The New York Times, suggests an abrupt reversal of that ethos: “Classical and traditional architectural styles have proven their ability to inspire such respect for our system of self-government. Their use should be encouraged.

The proposed mandate has triggered protests from architects and critics of the administration who say the president should not have the ability to issue a top-down mandate on how government buildings should look. News of the draft first appeared in the Architectural Record.

(emphasis mine)
So it's some pro-Trumpster who has a classical architecture hardon trying to force all government funded projects to look the same. Trump didn't instigate it, but that's not to say it doesn't has his fascist influence.

Also, CFA and NCPC (the two big agencies that do permitting architecture reviews in DC) are already very conservative in updates to federal buildings. If you make an addition/change, they really want you to do it in the existing style. This means you get a lot of precast concrete "limestone blocks" in modern additions. DC has a lot of classical federal architecture, but that doesn't mean that EVERY federal building should be in the same style, even in DC.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 12:32 PM on February 6 [9 favorites]


is he going to let Melania do the interiors?
posted by supermedusa at 12:39 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Repression doesn't always win.
posted by COBRA!


True. But it always does a lot of damage in the meantime.
posted by Pouteria at 12:42 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


"after READING THE DAMN ARTICLE, Trump just slapped his name on this. It is more about creating things that more represented of where they are actually being built, and being made out of stable, well tested, EASILY MAINTAINED, materials, without going full brutalist or just strange and off-putting."

OK. There's a lot here and I really do understand the sentiment. Basically it's an argument made in the 1970's by Prof. Kenneth Frampton and he called it "Critical Regionalism". It's New Urbanism's stepfather. I'd say if this is what you ask for, what you'll get more often than not is more accurately called American Boring. So for me I would rather run the risk of "strange and off-putting" than another bland nothing brick veneer building in a sea of parking dotted with trees. Because if you think about it, that's 99% of civic architecture built in America. It's all those things you describe, value-engineered into soulless nowheres that have more in common with how a walmart is built than anything approaching interesting civic space. Now I do realize that architecture is oftentimes more interesting on the federal side than that designed for local governance, but often times not.(The new Federal Courthouse in Columbus Ohio is pretty good, actually. Open and airy and full of glass, it seems to be interested in transparency which seems good for a court building.) I'd also say that nobody has built a brutalist government building since the late 70's, so that windmill has been thoroughly tilted. You may find an exception but it will probably prove the rule. Remember too that after the victorian period of american architecture, people felt about those structures just as you do about brutalism, which is why so many were torn down. Same went for Richardsonian Romanesque, which fell out of style as every style does. Brutalism has to be protected because it's hated, not because some anonymous bureaucrat somewhere loves it. Many of those buildings, like them or not, are important architecturally and represent a time and place in american history that's worth saving examples of so we better understand the past that they were built into. Rather than ranting about style and durability (which I agree matters but isn't THE matter) we should try to design public and civic spaces that map in some way to the desires and shared values of the cultures they serve. It will never be perfect, and may end up saying more about the shortcomings of a time than its strengths, but at least it will be vital and sincere about its intentions in a way I don't think classical architecture can be in 2020. Anyway, that's my 2 cents.
posted by hilberseimer at 12:48 PM on February 6 [15 favorites]




True. But it always does a lot of damage in the meantime.

I suppose it is a small blessing that whatever few buildings he involves himself in will likely collapse on themselves or otherwise fall over in a short period of time after he is forcibly removed from office.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:58 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


1. As many have noted above, to distressingly minor effect in this thread, the point is not that Trump is imposing her personal style on things.

2. However, this *is* a function of Trumpism--in that it's issuing, top-down, aesthetic guidelines based on one dude's conception of what federal architecture should be. Letting individual supporters/friends become the government-backed determiners of things based upon their opinions (as opposed to other considerations of function, local opinion, etc.) is a feature of centralized executive power--fascist or monarchical. When convincing government is largely a feature of knowing the personal tastes and preferences of those in power, you have a broken and corrupt government.

3. There are plenty of architectural and aesthetic opinions to be had, and they're interesting, but to me, the point of the story is more of how this pushes personal preference onto what should be a non-personality-driven area. This is the sort of thing that ignoramuses think government should be spending its time on.
posted by pykrete jungle at 1:08 PM on February 6 [9 favorites]




"Classical."

Hmm.

Let's call it "Mezhyhirya Modern" instead.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:07 PM on February 6


I just wanted to hear him say "Lonic column" because no one in the whole, stupid, all-caps White House has enough refinement to use a serif font.
posted by wenestvedt at 2:26 PM on February 6 [9 favorites]


The Society of Architectural Historians has written a letter in response, in which they propose "looking to voices of the American public, rather than the amplification of a federal dictate from on high." I appreciate that they called out this thing which is an aspect of fascist architecture: a top-down dictation of style, supposedly in defense of the, ahem, "everyday" person.

I see why they didn't dig into relationships between fascism and architecture in history, because, well, it's pretty complex actually (e.g. Italian fascists faux-medievalized renaissance churches in their day; neoclassical architecture has strong historic associations with democracy in the US, etc.).

I still kinda wish they'd directly referenced fascism, just once, for the power of it. But it wouldn't be very academic to do so: it could not be done with complexity or accuracy in a mere one page letter. Aaaand, I do believe parsing details academic-style is also a resistance against authoritarianism in its way. So: good job historians! Parse for democracy!
posted by marlys at 2:55 PM on February 6 [8 favorites]


MetaFilter: stable, well tested, EASILY MAINTAINED, without going full brutalist or just strange and offputting.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:08 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Here's a nice Twitter thread about one of the buildings mentioned in the order, the federal courthouse in Austin, which goes into how the needs of a 21st century courthouse were incorporated into the design in ways that are hard to achieve with strict neoclassicism.
posted by Copronymus at 4:12 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


I predict fasces, fasces everywhere
posted by dbx at 4:37 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


I suppose it's too much to hope that some smartass runs an Albert Speer design past him for approval, and he goes on camera extolling it's beauty and power.

Ah yes. The joke option. That never goes wrong with Trump.
posted by srboisvert at 4:54 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


fascists love neoclassical bullshit. If they've poisoned it, we should move over to the Federal style or Richardsonian Romanesque

I'd vote for Neo-Andean style.

Bolivian indigenous futurism from the Evo era is the most antifascist architecture I can think of. (previously)
posted by Tom-B at 6:02 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Another detail from CityLab's article on this proposal:
The order would also require the U.S. General Services Administration to convene public panels to provide feedback on design proposals. But no experts allowed: The order forbids “artists, architects, engineers, art or architecture critics, members of the building industry” and anyone else involved with this kind of work from participating in these panels.
posted by cheshyre at 6:17 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


You know the worst part of me is all for it.

I mean, I knew that Trump was going to get elected and then leave his skid marks on the nation. We all knew that, right?

I knew that it would take decades to erase the heaping piles of shit that burst orange colostomy bag was going to leave on society. If ever.

But now we’ll have like literal concrete temples to the man for generations. And that’s good. It’s good that future man will have A Grotesque Thing to point to and say, “Yes. There It is! That is where the barbarians gathered to worship their demon god. Who finally brought down a nation of entitled morons and gave them what they deserved.”
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 6:30 PM on February 6


If Trump can do this, then just wait until we get Bernie the brutalist!
posted by nofundy at 6:54 PM on February 6


1) the current US president has absolutely no interest in architecture, unless he can slap a logo on top of it. Whatever.

2) Monumental architecture is a fascinating aspect of human culture. Many of the monumental structures throughout history have an aspect of colonial oppression deeply woven within. They should be preserved for the historical record. For example, some of the Italian Fascist era things, which are interesting buildings, despite the fact that Mussolini was an asshole.
posted by ovvl at 6:58 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Many of the monumental structures throughout history have an aspect of colonial oppression deeply woven within. They should be preserved for the historical record. For example, some of the Italian Fascist era things, which are interesting buildings, despite the fact that Mussolini was an asshole.

Eritrean Modernism
posted by Tom-B at 7:10 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Oppressive architecture in Turkmenistan, previously on MetaFilter.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:25 PM on February 6


(can you picture what Don's presidential library will be?)

Incredibly gaudy, yet built as cheaply/poorly as possible (to skim from the budget, of course), and filled with boxes upon boxes of moldering books written by Ivanka and Don Junior in order to goose best seller lists.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:49 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Instant approval, no doubt.
posted by pompomtom at 8:58 PM on February 6


I really like the Early 2000s Ziggurat-Style that became the standard for movie theaters. I thought nothing stood for more corporate greed than people rushing to the theaters to worship their idols.

I think we can do this for Washington now as well. I mean, the Obelisk stays, but the rest of the buildings? Level and raise temples to our politicians. Do it right too - put the poor to death if they take too long to build it.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:18 PM on February 6


I really adore brutalism in public spaces--i think that it has a rigour, and a kind of exceptionalism, and well done--it makes an argument that a space is important. It also avoids cheap, self refential kitsch. I think alot about how muncipal and provincal buildings (law libraries, courthouses, university buildings, etc) were built in the style in Canada post 1967, or the centenary of confedartion, and it has both a unity and an ambition--a recognition of blunt honesty of materials might lead to a blunt honesty of process. It often didn't work that way, but I appreciated the attempts.

Also, the interior of them were often gorgeous.

Here is the interior of a court room in my home town in a town in Alberta.link..which doesn't look all that different from interiors in court rooms in Vancouver or Prince Albert or places in Ontario, but also has an aesthetic, doesn't look corperate or cookie cutter.

modernism has a place that reflects democractic values.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:14 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


I read the article's section on the Make It Right houses not as much as an indictment of modern architecture as an example of what happens when far-away forces put their esthetics and values above local form and function. That is, exactly what this executive order is trying to do. This isn't going to make nice classical buildings, it's going to make ugly and out-of-place buildings with a bunch of tacked-on plasticy classical elements messing everything up.

In any case, this is one small example of how much crap is going to happen if Trump gets re-elected. There's no "deep state" keeping him at bay... it just takes a while to turn the ship of state. In a few years they'll be able to reshape on-the-ground life in some really profound ways.
posted by netowl at 1:41 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


I'd vote for Neo-Andean style.

The interiors are a little intense for me, but what spectacular exteriors! Wow.

As for the executive order...uh, sounds bad. I'd bet most neoclassical buildings in this country are actually banks; off that metric alone, I would prefer our government to fund different architecture styles.
posted by grandiloquiet at 2:05 PM on February 7


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