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Trump Revamping Beauty Standards For Federal Buildings, NYT Skeptical: ‘Dictator Style’

By  Eric Quintanar
The J. Edgar Hoover Building of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seen on April 03, 2019 in Washington, DC. - The FBI is the domestic intelligence and security service of the United States, and its principal federal law enforcement agency. Operating under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Justice, the FBI is also a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community and reports to both the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP)
ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration plans to mandate beauty standards on federal buildings commissioned for over $50 million by the General Services Administration, a move intended to curb the influence of modern design and to promote the architecture style that birthed the nation’s most iconic government buildings, including the Supreme Court and the White House. 

According to The New York Times, the plan has been initiated by the National Civic Art Society, a non-profit organization that seeks to advance the Greco-Roman style that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson chose in order to purposefully connect the nation’s capital “to the ideals of republican Rome and democratic Athens.”

“For too long architectural elites and bureaucrats have derided the idea of beauty, blatantly ignored public opinions on style, and have quietly spent taxpayer money constructing ugly, expensive, and inefficient buildings,” Marion Smith, the chairman of National Civic Art Society, wrote in a group text message, reports the Times. “This executive order gives voice to the 99 percent — the ordinary American people who do not like what our government has been building.”

According to a draft of the proposal reviewed by the Times, proposed structures could receive an exemption from the architectural standards if the designs were to receive special approval from a committee and a green-light from the president. 

The proposal has drawn criticism from experts in the profession who remain skeptical of deviating from the architecture guidelines established in 1962, which prohibit the government from endorsing a specific style and encourage architects to draw creativity “from the architectural profession” itself, reports the news agency. 

“At the most fundamental level it’s a complete constraint on freedom of expression,” Roger Lewis, an architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, said in response to the proposed changes. “This notion that the White House has expertise or knowledge or understanding of architecture and design sufficient to allow them to mandate that all federal buildings be classically styled is absurd.”

The Times also provides a summary of Trump’s favorite flavor of architecture, followed by a design analysis from journalist Peter York’s 2017 book “Dictator Style: Lifestyles of the World’s Most Colorful Despots,” in which President Trump’s name appeared. 

Architects have regarded Mr. Trump, a former real estate developer who keeps close watch over his family’s portfolio of luxury properties, with a certain degree of wariness since he took office. His design style at his personal properties favors gilded furniture, marble flooring, and Louis XIV-style flourishes. But two of his higher-profile business projects, including the Trump Towers at Columbus Circle in New York City and The Trump Tower in Chicago, were built with modernist influences.

“At one level, it’s aspirational, meant to project the wealth so many citizens can only dream of,” the author Peter York wrote in 2017 of Mr. Trump’s style. “The best aesthetic descriptor of Trump’s look, I’d argue, is dictator style.”

According to the Architectural Record, the first organization to report on the Trump administration’s draft, several federal buildings were cited as having influenced the proposed changes due to having “little aesthetic appeal,” including the U.S. Federal Building in San Francisco, the U.S. Courthouse in Austin, and the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr., U.S. Courthouse in Miami. 

Interestingly, the U.S. Federal Building in San Francisco has been in the public eye recently for a completely unrelated reason: After dark, it had a habit of becoming an “open-air drug market,” according to a resident interviewed by NBC News

Police have since intervened, and for now, the drug addicts and dealers have started going about their business from across the street.

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