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Priorities, I Guess: On His Way Out of Office, Donald Trump Institutes a Bizarre Ban on Modern Architecture

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

With only a few weeks left in office, Donald Trump is making his priorities clear. He signed an executive order this weekend mandating all new federal buildings be built only in classic architectural styles.

The order takes issue with modern architecture, and most specifically Brutalism, while praising the “beautiful and beloved buildings of largely, though not exclusively, classical design” that were built following the country’s founding.

The architecture website Archinect wrote earlier this year that “as many architectural observers might note, President Trump’s taste in architecture hews more toward the pedimented than the streamlined, as the classically ordered, chintzy-but-low-ceilinged interiors of his Trump Tower condominium make clear.”

So basically, Trump is trying to turn all federal buildings into Trump Tower.

The possibility of this decision was first reported by Architectural Record back in February, when it was predictably named the “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” order. It was first proposed during Trump’s impeachment trial and now signed during a global pandemic, likely either because Trump gets bored and needs distractions during times of crisis, or because he was trying to pass this mandate quietly.

If it’s the latter, that sure didn’t work. The order has been trending online all day Monday, with people expressing bafflement at the idea that Trump would have such strong feelings about Brutalism.

The executive order criticizes a set of “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture” released in 1962. “The Guiding Principles implicitly discouraged classical and other traditional designs known for their beauty, declaring instead that the Government should use ‘contemporary’ designs,” reads Trump’s order. That’s not entirely accurate, though.

Those guidelines did recommend placing “major emphasis […] on the choice of designs that embody the finest contemporary American architectural thought” but that wasn’t a mandate and they also say to incorporate “fine art” into those designs. It also explicitly urges against developing an “official style” of American architecture: “Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government. And not vice versa.”

Moreover, the guidelines recommended paying “specific attention” to incorporating regional influences into these designs so that federal architecture can more accurately reflect the diversity of the American people.

It is not surprising that in his final days in office, Trump is trying to undo that.

(image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.