Architect In Chief?

As he promised, President Donald Trump has deliberately undone many government regulations. Why then is he proposing a new one?

His proposed executive order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” (EW, Making Architecture Great Again, 2-13) says architects should return to the Greek and Roman styles that symbolized our federal building designs until the middle of the 20th century.

He criticizes President John Kennedy for having spearheaded the General Services Administration effort to bring contemporary design to new federal buildings. He criticizes several “Brutalist” buildings, naming the Hubert Humphrey Department of Health & Human Services, Frances Perkins Department of Labor and Robert C. Weaver Department of Housing and Urban Development buildings as examples.

Kennedy, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Frances Perkins (Secretary of Labor 1933-1945, first female cabinet member), Robert Weaver (Secretary of HUD and first African American cabinet member): Which bothers Trump more, the style or the people being honored?

Trump didn’t like San Francisco’s new Federal Building either. But it has ample day lighting and natural ventilation. The secretarial pool gets the windows with view, the bosses get the interior offices.

Trump cites one new example that he likes: the Tuscaloosa Federal Building. Sporting iconic columns and a pediment, this building was supposedly inspired by the Greek temple of Zeus at Nemea.

As an architect, I am not very fond of Brutalism. Several examples cited by Trump are indeed unpopular with some. But I remember with revulsion Hitler’s embrace of classical styles and his architect henchman, Albert Speer. Trump’s proposal to regulate architectural design would head us in that direction.

John S. Reynolds, FAIA


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