Bye-bye, Brutalism: Trump order emphasizes classical style for federal buildings

Executive order calls for government buildings to be “beautiful”

President Donald Trump with the J. Edgar Hoover Building and the United States Capitol (Getty; iStock)
President Donald Trump with the J. Edgar Hoover Building and the United States Capitol (Getty; iStock)dan

In the waning days of his administration, President Donald Trump is focusing his attention on pressing matters: ensuring that any new government buildings in the nation’s capital are “beautiful.”

The president has signed an executive order, “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture,” that recommends federal buildings in Washington, D.C. be designed in a variety of traditional architectural styles — Neoclassical, Georgian, Greek Revival and Gothic among them, according to WAMU.

It would also establish a Council on Improving Federal Civic Architecture, which would be tasked with ensuring that government buildings in D.C. are “beautiful and reflective of the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the American system of self-government.”

So buildings like the Capitol, perhaps the most famous Neoclassical structure in the city, would be in. The work of Modernist architects like Charles Murphy, who designed the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover Building, or Marcel Breuer, the architect behind HUD’s Robert C. Weaver Building, would be out.

The order does not specifically forbid architects from designing or submitting building plans that are more modernist in style, according to Bloomberg CityLab, but it would require soliciting input from the public and those who will work in a federal building before a design is chosen.

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Trump’s distaste for Brutalist architecture is well-documented: He previously said the FBI headquarters is “one of the ugliest buildings in the city.” But his apparent penchant for classical architecture is not. His buildings in New York City, including Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and Trump World Tower, are firmly modernist in style, although that’s less about aesthetics and more about maximizing views from the apartments within — and thus, profits.

And when he was building his eponymous Fifth Avenue skyscraper in the 1980s, Trump infamously demolished the old Bonwit Teller department store, designed by the same firm who built Grand Central Terminal. He failed to fulfill his promise to donate two Art Deco friezes that once adorned its facade to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The reason? The adornments were “without artistic merit,” the Trump Organization claimed.

[WAMU, CityLab] — Amy Plitt