There are many obvious reasons why the Trump administration’s draft executive order that would impose a rigid classical style of architecture on all new federal buildings is a bad idea.
For starters, this “war on architectural diversity” is a move reminiscent of the authoritarian regimes in North Korea and former Soviet Union. It is also the height of hypocrisy coming from a political party that pathologically rails against “big government”. Classical architecture has it’s place (and it isn’t Omaha or El Paso), but it shouldn’t be the only criteria by which all federal buildings be judged. Design inspiration and expertise should come from local communities, architects and urban designers, not bureaucrats in Washington.
But perhaps the most depressing reason for why this proposal is a bad idea is that it will be approved by the one person who arguably has the worst aesthetic sensibilities. Anywhere. Ever. One need only look at Trump’s grotesque properties, gaudy corporate products, and tasteless campaign merchandise to know that he is perhaps the last person on Earth who should be imposing design guidelines. (Calling Trump’s style “dictator chic” is an insult to dictators.)
Architecture and urban design aren’t luxuries. The built environment is a representation of a culture’s values and aspirations. It shapes the human psyche, both as individuals and as a society. As the American author Joseph Campbell said, “If you want to know what a given society believes in, look at what its largest buildings are devoted to.” I would also add “– and how they were designed.” Good design matters.