Trump’s Culture Wars Come to Architecture

Anthony Paletta in The Boston Review:

Nearly everything is exasperating about the debate surrounding the Trump administration’s draft executive order, “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.”

The foremost problem is the order itself. An intemperate jeremiad against modernist architecture, it proposes that “the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style” for government buildings in Washington and for federal courthouses; the subsequent fine print is designed to ensure that exceptions would be difficult and unlikely. The order first nails its list of grievances to the door of Marcel Breuer’s Brutalist Hubert Humphrey building. It then proceeds to derogate federal architecture over the last fifty-eight years in support of its argument that the government has “stopped building beautiful buildings that the American people want to look at or work in.”

The draft has provoked well-warranted opposition from a chorus of critics: every conceivable architectural professional organization, historic preservationists, architectural historians, and a wide range of others. Most of this response has been sound and reasonable; some has been intemperate and outlandish. The order’s exaggerated contempt for modernism as a willful and deliberate assault on beauty has provoked similarly overheated charges identifying neoclassicism as a vessel for fascismwhite supremacy, and genocide. In this, the Trump administration has displayed its typical incendiary skill at pouring accelerants onto any squabble, inflaming ground that has largely managed, until now, to escape the pitched battles of the ever-widening culture wars.

More here.