Architecture and the ballot box

Classical architecture defines the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (Wikipedia)

Few votes are likely to be influenced by a post on the eve of Election Day, but architecture will be heavily influenced by the vote. If Donald Trump wins, classical architecture will receive a boost. On the other hand, if Joe Biden wins, so will modern architecture.

Trump, after all, has sponsored an executive order that would shift the design of federal buildings from the current modernist mandate toward a classical mandate. Trump has not signed the order, and the order may not reflect the president’s personal taste in architecture. But the E.O. is called “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” a title that speaks volumes. If Trump does sign the E.O., and it is faithfully implemented, its influence will spread beyond federal buildings. The unbalanced market for architectural commissions will open up and shift toward tradition. Schools of architecture will respond to that shift by adding classical curricula. The public’s preference for traditional buildings, which has been stifled for a half a century, will guide architecture back to its roots. That will take time, but over time, beauty will return to the built environment.

Biden is a blank slate on architecture, so far as I know, but the modernists’ dominance of the field will continue if he is elected, since modern architecture is the brand of America’s corporate establishment. Furthermore, there will be no check on the rising influence of critical theory in architecture, which holds that its classical and traditional strains reflect the structurally racist agenda of white power, and threatens to escape the confines of academia. Institutional leadership will find it ever more difficult to resist the idea that columns and cornices are too risky in an increasingly woke cultural climate.

That does not mean that all Democrats are modernists and all Republicans are classicists. Far from it. Architecture ought to be the most bipartisan of fields. Classicism caters to the bottom-up, small-is-beautiful beliefs of traditional liberals, and fits better than modernism into the green agenda. And I’m sure that warm and cozy beats cold and sterile at the ballot box and everywhere else.

In fact, I’d wager that if exit polls taken after voters cast ballots were to ask about architectural preferences, the preferences of Biden voters and Trump voters would be nearly identical: three-to-one in favor of traditional styles. That conclusion was reached by a Harris Poll taken in October, and reached across every demographic category, including party identification. Of course, polling is in ill repute these days. Perhaps there are as many shy classicists as shy Trumpsters.

Who knows? That is one question that will not be answered on Election Day.

***

By the way, on the subject of voting, readers may vote whether my recent change to a smaller text font, forced upon me by WordPress, should be resisted. I may be able to increase the font size myself. If enough readers vote to approve such an attempt, I will make it, if it is possible.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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13 Responses to Architecture and the ballot box

  1. Politics evidently was a problem with the E.O., Dan, but it ought not to have been. The E.O. was not political, let alone bad politics – it was good policy, but it got sucked up in bad politics. If Trump loses, the E.O. probably (I repeat probably) is dead. Too bad. Whether it can re-emerge in another form if Biden wins, maybe.

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  2. Pingback: Fate of E.O. if Biden wins | Architecture Here and There

  3. Peter Van Erp says:

    Larger font please!

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  4. Nikos Salingaros says:

    David,

    Sorry to ignore the Executive Order, but I vote to increase font size! There are many of us of a certain age in which wisdom is acquired but our eyesight is declining.

    Best wishes,
    Nikos

    Like

  5. Steven W Semes says:

    David, I believe you are mistaken to think a continuing Trump administration will support classical architecture. Trump, personally, has no interest in classical architecture. On the contrary, he has destroyed it many times in his career as a New York real estate developer. While there may be those in the government sympathetic to the proposed Executive Order, there is no reason to think that there are not also those in a prospective Biden administration equally so. Trusting the future of classical architecture in America to a professional vandal does not seem to me a good strategy.

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    • I think the sins of Trump have been greatly exaggerated, Steve, although I admit that beyond the Bonwit Teller fiasco, I am unaware of how many classical buildings have come down to make way for his abominations. For the latter, I blame mainly his use of architects conventional in his heyday (and alas still). His preferred interiors are, if not classical, gaudy trad, or at least so I gather. Biden may indeed be no less inclined to sign the E.O., but I suspect the headwinds there would be greater than under Trump, who maybe has seen his presidency go to his head in a way that could favor classical architecture. I may address all this – esp. the E.O. prospects under Biden – in a post I plan to write today.

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  6. I think you are correct in that classical/comfy/warm architecture straddles both parties. I think many people will vote for Biden as a way to return to normal. And many Trump voter see the other side as radical. Most poeple agree that classical architecture feels more comfortable. The woke element is not really a factor for the average joe, the connection between racism and supremacy and columns is not at the fore front of thought. Or at least I hope it is not.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    I’m with Gaither – Palladio redux is not worth 4 more years of whatever hell the last 4 have been. Re: font: I’m so glad I know how to enlarge page content – had to hit control/+ several times. I could read the smaller font – but after a few sentences the strain was too much.

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  8. steve bass says:

    Yes – please go to a larger type face!

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  9. Gaither Pratt says:

    I disagree with your premise that a vote for Trump secures the mandate for classical architecture and Biden doesn’t. Have some faith in the hard work and advocacy of the people and organizations that got it on Trump’s desk to do the same with a Biden administration. The argument has been presented as a viable option.

    If you are correct in your premise, then I say it’s time to throw the baby out with the bathwater. No allegiance to classical architecture should blind one to the raging sins of the Trump administration in every other arena. Some additional patience and work for the classical agenda is a small price to pay to overcome the repugnant Trump policies in every other arena.

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    • Gate, I do not believe and did not write that a continuation of Trump secures the E.O. while the election of Biden will not. I said the former is more likely than the latter – a very big difference. But you do twit me correctly for my premise that the E.O. is dead under Biden. I think it probably is, but I have no proof.

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      • Daniel says:

        I hadn’t thought that the authors of the EO would pursue it under a new administration but it’s highly unlikely because of their politics, which was always the problem with the EO. Keep architecture out of partisan politics if you want he widest support possible support.

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