Dezeen Magazine

The White House

Trump orders new government buildings must be "beautiful"

President Donald Trump has passed an executive order stating new US government buildings must be "beautiful" just one month before Joe Biden takes office.

The order, titled Executive Order on Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture, was passed on Monday 21 December 2020. President-elect Biden will be sworn in on 21 January 2021.

Classical architecture to be encouraged

Trump's order stipulates that new buildings commissioned for the federal government must be "beautiful" and names classical and traditional architecture as the preferred style, but stops short of banning other styles, such as brutalism.

"Encouraging classical and traditional architecture does not exclude using most other styles of architecture, where appropriate," reads the order.

"Care must be taken, however, to ensure that all federal building designs command respect [sic] of the general public for their beauty and visual embodiment of America's ideals."

The order defines traditional architecture as "Gothic, Romanesque, Pueblo Revival, Spanish Colonial, and other Mediterranean styles of architecture historically rooted in various regions of America".

Architects must design for "the American people"

The executive order seeks to stamp out designs made for "architects to appreciate" and instead "ensure that architects designing federal buildings serve their clients, the American people".

A Council for Improving Federal Civic Architecture will also be established per the executive order, a signed and published written directive from the US president that does not require approval from Congress.

Trump, who is now in the last few weeks of his presidency, had previously threatened to insist all federal buildings be designed in a classical style only.

A draft of the executive order, called Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again, was released in early 2020 and condemned brutalist and deconstructivist architecture styles. The move prompted outrage, with the American Institute of Architects writing an open letter in protest.

Order dismisses tastes of  "architectural elite"

The final order still contains much of the earlier draft's sentiments about architecture, drawing a direct link between the architecture of Ancient Greece and Rome and the democratic aims of America's founding fathers, and identifying mid-century architecture as a deviation from this pattern.

"Federal architecture sometimes impresses the architectural elite, but not the American people who the buildings are meant to serve," complains the order.

"Federal public buildings should uplift and beautify public spaces, inspire the human spirit, ennoble the United States, and command respect from the general public," it continues.

"They should also be visually identifiable as civic buildings and, as appropriate, respect regional architectural heritage. Architecture — with particular regard for traditional and classical architecture — that meets the criteria set forth in this subsection is the preferred architecture," the order states.

The order notes that while "elite architects" liked the San Francisco Federal Building, which was designed by Morphosis and opened in 2007, local residents "consider it one of the ugliest structures in their city".

Melania Trump, the president's wife, recently completed her own architectural project in the classical style – a tennis pavilion fronted by columns in the grounds of the White House.

Image is courtesy of Shutterstock.