The garish and self-indulgent buildings developed by Republican candidate Donald Trump reveal a lot about how he would run America if elected president tomorrow, says US architect Doug Staker in this Opinion column.
As an architect trained in the ways of contemporary thought, it was hard for me to take Donald Trump seriously as a candidate. To me his architecture – let's call it Trumpitecture – was always a collection of unsightly, tasteless eyesores.
Because of my own distaste for the Trump Tower in any of its iterations, I did not understand how anyone could take him seriously in any other facet of life; yet I reluctantly admit that architectural taste might not be everyone's primary filter for leadership potential. In hindsight, however, I believe there is no truer voice in the Trump symphony than his under-analysed architectural portfolio.
Trump has built his name on his special combination of blandness and opulence, with complete blindness toward anything that makes architecture with a capital A. Architecture is like a revered founding father. It can rise above its time and leave a lasting legacy. It marks a city for generations, and has the power to affect its environment in positive, memorable ways, to create an identity reflecting the values of those who interact with the environment it shapes.
There is no truer voice in the Trump symphony than his under-analysed architectural portfolio
Architecture has the potential to inspire, uplift, and transcend; the creation of architecture is a pursuit, a life, a passion. Many forces make it difficult to achieve, and keep it a rarity. Yet like many worthy goals, there are some who wish for the prize without being willing or able to pay the price. Listen, do you hear the voice of Trump?
What might we have known about the man by thinking more shrewdly about the many jewels of his architectural arsenal?
Trump likes it big. At least one Trump Tower dreamed of being the tallest building in the world, an aspiration that in today's world has more to do with testosterone than taste. Like trying to land your country on the moon decades after this feat was first accomplished, in the modern era this pursuit strikes a bit more of self aggrandisement than of progress. But worse, it is an attempt to appear to accomplish something remarkable by copying a feat that might have been truly remarkable in a past era.
Trumpitecture does not know timing. It does not know its own era but clings to easy symbols of might. Perhaps they had a time, but that time has long passed. In contrast to the best known early victor in the tallest building race, the Empire State Building, Trumpitecture leaves little as a treasure for posterity, a monument to its own era, or an icon for a city. Trumpitecture leaves a legacy for one thing: Trump.
Trumpitecture clings to easy symbols. Big means strong. Bigger means stronger. There is a tale of Trump shortening an adjacent building in a scale model of Manhattan so his building would stand taller in his view which, despite being patently false, was clearly better. The Las Vegas Trump Tower is literally gold in colour. A gold tower in Las Vegas. Ponder the subtleties.
But it's not just buildings that are big in the vocabulary of Trumpitecture. There's also the sign. A Trump creation needs a sign, always prominently displaying the word "Trump". But the sign cannot be just any sign; it must be a big sign. One such sign was 2,800 square feet (260 square metres), larger than the average home in America. Even those who otherwise defended the building felt this was grossly overdone.
Look no further than Trump's architectural prowess to envision the world he would wish upon us
I quote the immortal words of the building's architect who said: "Just for the record, I had nothing to do with this sign". Why mess around with the elusive language of architecture when you can use instead a sign bigger than a house so no one will miss the message?
Trumpitecture veers away from difficult realities in favour of reductive simplicity. Surface decoration, clumsy massing, and opulence are all ideas discarded by the pioneers of modern architectural thought; ideas perceived as relics and indeed as failings of the past – out of touch with a modern and future society.
It should be noted that high-rise buildings are a building typology unto themselves. The quest for interest, uniqueness, distinction, grace, and poise has occupied the efforts of great design talent for decades. Trumpitecture doesn't bother itself with such concerns. It replaces such lofty pursuits with the easy and simplistic. Big tower, big sign, gold skin, "Trump!" Is any of this sounding familiar yet?
For decades Trumpitecture has stood as a sad but honest reflection of the values Trump clearly and proudly embodies. It offers to the world an opportunity to embrace all that is backward and regressive in architecture and the world it reflects, to miss the opportunity for depth and insight in favour of the easy and simplistic, to miss every chance to build a better world, both literally and figuratively.
Trumpitecture forgets the lessons learned by the struggles and aspirations of the past. It does not aspire to anything but singing its own name while filling its own pockets. It belches all the wrong ideas we thought we had left in the past. It hopes that if the people are thoughtless enough, they'll be fooled by the glitter into believing that the future belongs to the tactless and simplistic, replete with yesterday's ideas, and that somehow – in some future detached from the bonds of reason – this collection of simplistic, backwards ideas and betrayals of principle will somehow "make America great again".
What could proclaim louder than Trump's own buildings that his recipe for greatness lies in embracing the worst ideas that we as a people have sought and struggled to leave in the past? We need look no further than Trump's architectural prowess to envision the world he would wish upon us. Strip away all nuance and subtlety, unlearn all the lessons of the past, and transform what could be a beautiful art form into a place to advertise your brand – that is Trump's recipe for greatness.
Trumpitecture leaves a legacy for one thing: Trump
And sadly, we must admit that his foul, retrograde recipe for political renewal that culminates on 8 November 2016 is nothing like a surprise. It had been predicted and forecast by his own architecture – Trumpitecture – right before our eyes for years before that perfect moment arrived when he asked us to accept it, embrace it, and join him in that beautiful building.
Run to the beacon, America! Claim your future, Oh Mannahatta! Throw your arms around the mother of your children's world, where taste, propriety, restraint, sophistication, and exploration, are all set aside in favour of the loudest, brashest, shiniest, easiest, and most tasteless. Embrace your destiny, Trump's America! What could go wrong? Only Trump can seize your future for you the way he seized his own: he "moved on her like a bitch!"