In February 2020, President Trump proposed an executive order which he referred to as “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.” As the name implies, this executive order would place restrictions on the architectural design of federal buildings in Washington D.C. by requiring any new buildings constructed to be of “classical” design.

This executive order was instituted in December of 2020 and rebranded under the title of “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture.” The order specifically targeted modern federal buildings constructed over the last 50 years by describing them as “uninspiring”, “undistinguished” and “just plain ugly.” Promoters of this new executive order included Marion Smith of the National Civic Art Society (NCAS). According to Mr. Smith, the various forms of modern architecture found around the capital are distasteful, disgusting, and “not what our founders had in mind.” The NCAS has been the driving force behind this executive order and were obviously happy when it was enacted in December. Justin Shubow, the president of NCAS, offered some remarks about the order stating, “Since the mid-20th century, Modernist mandarins controlling the government architecture have been forcing ugly designs upon us.”

The problem with this order is that it directly attacks one of the characteristics that has always been associated with art – Progressivism. The order is not targeted toward actually changing the design of federal buildings. Rather, it is being used to attack modern art and suppress the ideals that it stands for. The supporters of this order only wish to retain the classical architecture that is found around the capital because for them it represents a distant past that is always superior to the present and cannot be interrogated. It’s not the style they are concerned about, it’s the time period and the state of the country they embrace when these buildings were constructed. For them, buildings constructed in modern styles demonstrate a shift towards more progressive ideals both culturally and politically. This is the battle they wish to fight, not a critique of style.

Additionally, the idea that anyone alive today could truly understand “what our founders had in mind” is completely irrational. Even so, a statement such as this demonstrates a complete disregard for the fact that our founders were progressives themselves! A prime example can be seen in Thomas Jefferson’s residence known as Monticello. Many different styles were incorporated into the construction of Monticello, but ultimately it was Jefferson’s goal to create a dwelling that symbolized a culmination of refined architectural designs. Therefore, not only is it deceptive to believe anyone could truly understand “what our founders had in mind,” but it is counterintuitive to assume that a progressive group of individuals would prefer to embrace outdated designs as opposed to new and progressive forms of modern architecture.

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Ben Soto

5 thoughts on “Weaponized Architecture

  1. *

    1 point by bobthechef 0 minutes ago | edit | delete [–]

    “The problem with this order is that it directly attacks one of the characteristics that has always been associated with art – Progressivism.”

    Whatever the rationales of the order, this, I think, is a preposterous remark. Big “P” Progressivism is divine providence for atheists. All manner of hideous things have been justified under the woolly mantle of “Progress”. That Progressivism has invaded art and turned it into a fad-driven enterprise full of inscrutable fluff and pretense does not mean that is what art is or what it has always been. That art can change, improve, discover new beauty, etc. does not mean that it must, and even here this is not the same as Big “P” Progressivism because the Progressive, despite the misleading appellation, worships change. Change, for him, is this mystical Progress. Just look at his political slogans, but don’t ask him for the measure of the Progress. That is his undivine mystery. That is the his Faith. To inquire is to blaspheme. At least Christianity holds mystery to be thoroughly intelligible, if exceeding human capacity to exhaustively know.

    The author then writes:

    “The supporters of this order only wish to retain the classical architecture that is found around the capital because for them it represents a distant past that is always superior to the present and cannot be interrogated.”

    As noted, if there is anything that resists interrogation, it is Progressivism. Note how the author, out of malice or out of foolishness, reduces support for the order to some nostalgia for a mythical past that never was. People like that surely exist, but this is not only uncharitable, it is an unjust dismissal of all those who have better reasons for preferring such architecture. Some modern architecture has its merits, it has its interesting contributions, but there is also a great deal, a great deal of anti-humanism and downright nihilist, to despise in it. The Progressive star architect is more interested in building monuments to his proverbial cock than he is in serving the people who will need to use that building and look at it for years to come.

    “it is counterintuitive to assume that a progressive group of individuals would prefer to embrace outdated designs as opposed to new and progressive forms of modern architecture.”

    That word, “outdated”, is one of the most pernicious words in the English language. It conflates the passage of time with improvement. You can only speak of something being better relative to an end, and the end itself must either be the nature of a thing, or in service of the thing (technology, for example, is in a sense an extension of man; you cannot make sense of technology except in terms of human nature).

    So you tell me what is so “outdated” about the Stoa of Athens and yet so great about the Strata Center? Believe me, in two hundred years, people will still admire the timeless beauty of the Stoa and will look at the Strata with laughter, amusement, and disgust, if they even remember it at all. Maybe that’s the lesson: we ought to reach for the timeless within our own time and place.

  2. Perhaps you think the various design-by-magazine glass boxes that have recently been constructed are good design but my opinion differs. It would be better if the design of public buildings was arrived at by consensus of everyone that felt they had a stake in the outcome. That is, an architect designs a building and then presents it to stake holders (not just politicians, but also including people that: work nearby, live nearby, have an interest in architecture…) who deliberate on its merits, qualities, function… The architect adjusts/amends their design as necessary and then re-presents to stakeholders. The design would be an iterative process.

    Dare I say that a democratic process would be used.

  3. Well, while I agree in principle that one should try to improve designs and architecture – I disagree with the conclusion.
    From my view architects should step back approximately 100 years and start over. They have gone down a road which is utterly despicable and quite simply is an attack on civic life – personal and public.

    Modern architecture is simply hostile towards people and culture.

  4. >The problem with this order is that it directly attacks one of the characteristics that has always been associated with art – Progressivism.

    There is nothing particularly wrong about this, though. Progressive Arts and their consequences have been a disaster for the human race.

  5. “not what our founders had in mind.”

    They had a lot of things in mind that are very far from examples to follow. Basing decisions about the needs of today on what they thought about their needs and preferences at their time doesn’t sound like a good idea.

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