Fate of E.O. if Biden wins

At left is the Scranton house where Joe Biden spent his youth. (yahoo.com)

I was properly upbraided in a comment on my last post, “Architecture and the ballot box,” for assuming that Joe Biden, if elected president, would not sign a draft proposal to mandate classical architecture for federal buildings. I don’t know how often a new administration has ever taken up an executive order proposed by its defeated adversary, but it is possible.

In his comment, architect Gaither Pratt, wrote:

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.

I had written that Biden seemed a “blank slate” on architecture, and I regret, since he seems on the verge of winning, that the validity of this assessment remains firm. (Someone please correct me if I am wrong.) Still, as Pratt points out, the classicists who engineered the draft E.O. in the Trump White House are unlikely to throw up their hands in despair if Biden wins. No, they will continue to push for a classical mandate, and perhaps even harder since it appears that many classicists are uncomfortable with President Trump.

Perhaps, as president-elect and then as president, Biden will be looking for a way to unite Americans going forward. If so, he could do no better than to embrace classical architecture. A two- or three-to-one majority prefers traditional over modern architecture, according to a survey performed by the Harris Poll in October. The majority is maintained over a widespread set of demographics – age, sex, race, income, education, region and political identification. Granted, polls are in bad odor in the wake of pollsters’ blundering at all levels throughout the campaign – but this poll on architecture only confirms what anecdotes and prior research have found to be the case for many decades.

I have little doubt that Biden, who spent most of his lengthy career in politics as a moderate, prefers traditional to modern architecture. He grew up in a pleasantly trad Scranton, Pa., cape, lived in a 1723 colonial when first elected senator in 1972, and has added more houses to his portfolio ever since, each one quite as traditional as the one before, only larger. (Trump also grew up in a classical mansion in Queens, against which perhaps he revolted to assume his revolting style as a developer, which he may have outgrown as president.)

The big question is whether Biden remains a moderate – not that liberals or even the left wing are necessarily averse to classicism. However, if Biden turns out to be the empty vessel perceived by Republicans, moderates and liberals might play second fiddle to woke party activists and leftists who may staff the new Biden administration, and they are unlikely to put up with a mandate for classical architecture. After all, critical race theory could soon be in the ascendancy: columns and cornices, in that view, are totems of racism and white superiority. However alien that set of beliefs may be to most Democrats and most Americans, something like it has long had a foothold, at least, in the architectural profession, even if most architects know little or nothing of it.

To unite America and to assert his political independence, signing the E.O. (or otherwise mandating federal classicism) could serve Joe Biden as something like the “Sister Soulja moment” that served Bill Clinton. It goes without saying that architecture, no less than America, could stand a return to roots.

House where Biden lived in his early years as U.S. senator. (delaware online)

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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15 Responses to Fate of E.O. if Biden wins

  1. Michael Behrendt says:

    I don’t mean to bring politics into this discussion, but being a political creature as well as one who loves traditional architecture, I must respond. Trump is a total piece of garbage. He is a fascist. He is a racist bigot. He is a liar and a cheater. He is a malignant narcissist who would be happy to set this country on fire because he lost. I really cannot abide hearing anything positive about him from people who are allies in this different fight. Sorry, I probably just ignited it myself, but the man is the most rotten human being imaginable.

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  2. Drey says:

    Some rebranding of the EO proposal, to appeal to Democrat sensibilities, could get it far. Adding a bit more emphasis on vernacular architecture, native american styles, preserving the aesthetic on minority neighborhoods, maybe reframing french and spanish colonial revivalism as traditions of hispanic immigrants, and some bipartisan support could be found.

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    • Those sound like sensible suggestions, though some of them already apply to the current draft E.O. – it does not mandate classicism exclusively, but allows for exceptions and local conditions. Maybe emphasizing some of them can help bring Biden’s people on board.

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  3. ericritter65 says:

    I think there are far more important issues facing our country, that architectural style to swing my vote from freedom to fascism. Trump has done little in his 4 years as POTUS, other than stroke his ego, Joe will get shit done!

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    • Joe will get *shit* done! You don’t know the half of it! Enjoy your fantasy, Eric. To each his own. You may be aware of the incredibly minor issues that the federal government deals with as things are. Reviving beauty could be among the higher priorities.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    “Trump may have risen above his prior inclinations in order to better reflect the nation” – thinking that he would/could rise above any of his base inclinations for the better of the nation is, well…good luck with that. I agree with Seth – Biden/Harris have a helluva lot more urgent issues to deal with and very limited time (especially if the Senate remains R). Add to that the economics of this time, I only hope there’s a budget to maintain the federal bldgs. already in desperate need of TLC – and doubt very much that very few – if any – new federal bldgs. will be constructed over the next 4-10 years. I also think “mandate” can be a very dangerous/damaging word – what’s wrong with “diversity” of styles? (I happen to like both modern and classical – when done well – there are a lotta crappy versions of both out there already.)

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    • Surely, Anony, those are all factors. Presidents’ schedules are kinda full. If Biden sparks a recession (let alone depression) there may be, as you say, few federal buildings built. I am not against a diversity of styles.That is what classicism is. We don’t need modernism, though a modernist building here and there wouldn’t be too obnoxious, as long as they refrain from screwing up traditional streetscapes. But yes, we are all entitled to the taste we choose for ourselves.

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  5. Seth Weine says:

    Dear David,
    He might or might not be in favor of the E.O.
    Here’s my guess:
    A new president only has so much political capital, and only so much time (2 years?) to accomplish any major work. And, based on what Biden and Harris have said, they already have so much “on their plate” to focus upon, that I doubt that the E.O. would be important enough to rise to their attention. Or, even if it did give it a look, they’d decide they didn’t need one more fight on their hands (when they have so much else they want to work on.)
    This is neither an endorsement nor disparagement of the E.O. or the new administration. It is only my guess about how much time & energy they have—-and what they’d want to (and not want to) prioritize.

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    • Seth, very astute, as usual, but you make my own point – whereas Biden will want to avoid “one more fight,” Trump is the sort who would relish it – unless of course he too opposes the E.O., which assumes that he even knows about it.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Winning through corruption.

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  7. kathleen quinn says:

    thought you might be interested in this

    https://www.theflorentine.net/shop/shop/product-category/tf/subscription-2/florence-lockdown-61/

    On Sat, Nov 7, 2020 at 9:29 PM Architecture Here and There wrote:

    > David Brussat posted: ” I was properly upbraided in a comment on my last > post, “Architecture and the ballot box,” for assuming that Joe Biden, if > elected president, would not sign a draft proposal to mandate classical > architecture for federal buildings. I don’t know how ofte” > Respond to this post by replying above this line > New post on *Architecture Here and There* > Fate of E.O. > if Biden wins > by > David Brussat > > > > At left is the Scranton house where Joe Biden spent his youth. (yahoo.com) > > I was properly upbraided in a comment on my last post, “Architecture and > the ballot box > ,” > for assuming that Joe Biden, if elected president, would not sign a draft > proposal to mandate classical architecture for federal buildings. I don’t > know how often a new administration has ever taken up an executive order > proposed by its defeated adversary, but it is possible. > >

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  8. The Executive Order is as good as dead if Biden wins. Even if a new version were to get to his desk, he doesn’t have the fight in him to go against the AIA and the architectural establishment. Trump is a fighter. If Trump was in favor of it, he would’ve fought for it.

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    • That’s my view, certainly. Michael, it’s possible Biden could end up supporting classical architecture, but it is unlikely. I don’t know why Trump didn’t sign it, but if he had signed it – and I suppose he still could – he would definitely fight for it. I think that while historically Trump’s taste has not been classical, he may have risen above his prior inclinations in order to better reflect the nation. And frankly, I’m not sure the election is over.

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