July 2, 2020

Trump’s neoclassical passion | Babelia

Will the neoclassic shine again as an official style in the United States, more than a century after the entry into disuse of that architectural current of Greco-Latin inspiration? The Trump administration is considering re-imposing the style for every new government building, according to an executive order promoted by the White House and leaked a few days ago by the specialized publication Architectural Record. According to the document, which would be in the process of approval, the neoclassical style must be “favored and used by default” in official headquarters, courts, federal agencies in and around Washington, and any new public building with a higher budget to 50 million dollars.

If it comes to fruition, the initiative would invalidate the current regulations governing architectural policy in the United States, signed in 1962 during the Government of John F. Kennedy. This set of guidelines, which was opposed “to the development of an official style”, allowed a great formal freedom and allowed numerous experiments with modern architecture. Trump’s first circle aspires to take a step back, reversing the experiments that were carried out during Barack Obama’s time, when the new Miami Court of Justice was signed, signed by the Architectural agency; the federal building of San Francisco, from the Morphosis studio; or the US embassy in London, by designer Kieran Timberlake. In 2018, Trump already spoke out against the brutalist architecture of the FBI headquarters in Washington, located in front of one of his hotels, which the president would aspire to remodel, according to the electronic newspaper Axios, Well informed in Washington circles.

The headquarters of the FBI, in Washington.

The headquarters of the FBI, in Washington.

Actually, behind this initiative is the National Civil Art Society, a lobby that promotes a return to “premodernist roots” of architecture and urbanism in United States. For this conservative organization, modernism rejects “the standards of beauty and harmony” and is characteristic of architects who did not hide “their hatred of democracy”, as he affirms in reference to the philofascist ranks of Le Corbusier. Even so, the cases of Hitler and Stalin, which privileged an architecture of classical inspiration, show that this style does not belong to a single ideological field. Different professional associations have already protested against this future imposition. “Architecture must be designed for the community it serves, reflecting the diversity of places, cultures and climates of our rich nation,” said the American Institute of Architects.

The American press has also echoed Trump’s controversial plans. “He wants to return to a distant era where women wore headdresses, men wore hats and the only acceptable design for a federal building was a copy of a classical Greek or Roman structure,” read an editorial of The Chicago Sun-Times. Just an amazing tribune, published this Monday in The New York Times, he saw in Trump’s plans a “depolarizing” measure and capable of provoking an aesthetic (and perhaps political) consensus between opposing clans.

Nothing in this movement is simple chance. The neoclassical is a style deeply rooted in the collective imagination of Americans since it was used to build many of the government buildings in Washington. Since the mid-eighteenth century, the imitation of classical antiquity became the fashion style throughout the western world, after the discovery of cities such as Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in the year 79 of our era. In the United States, the neoclassical gained special importance. On the East Coast, countless courts and museums adopted their grandiloquent solemnity, which symbolized reason and order, but also the owners of the slave mansions in the south of the country. The young nation had modeled its democracy following the Greco-Roman pattern. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, evoking that classical antiquity was a way of enrolling in the original project of the founding fathers. From there emerged the greatest examples of American neoclassical, such as the White House, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Washington Monument or Monticello, the residence of Thomas Jefferson, one of the main supporters of this style. Since then, the neoclassical has been considered a symbol of the nation. That Trump comes back to him is not an innocent gesture.

The construction of the United States Capitol, in Washington, between 1793 and 1826.

The construction of the United States Capitol, in Washington, between 1793 and 1826.

For Barry Bergdoll, professor of architecture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries at Columbia University, the White House plans respond to a political and non-aesthetic decision. “He is trying to take his cultural war to another level. All of its support search strategy is based on creating divisions. Now it’s the turn of the architecture, ”says Bergdoll, who says that, if the measure is confirmed, it would be an unprecedented decision in American history. “There has never been an official style dictated by law. The federal government has never imposed that. It is an antidemocratic and authoritarian gesture. That is the real problem, ”says the expert.

“This decree seems to be based on ignorance and power, rather than style,” says architect Charles Renfro, partner of the avant-garde New York studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro, recalling that “the first unique architectural style of The United States was corporate modernism and not classicism. ” “Just think of Hitler’s devotion to Albert Speer to remember that architecture is a reflection of power. We must be very worried, ”adds Renfro. The architect remembers that it is not a new debate, rescuing a book from his library: The golden cityby Henry Hope Reed, which in 1959 already reflected “the furious controversy between classical and modern fashion” in American architecture, according to its subtitle. “The author uses a comparison between the Metropolitan Museum and the New York Guggenheim. For me, that invalidates his argument: the architecture of the Met could be that of any bookstore, train station, government building or large warehouse. The specificity of the Guggenheim reflects a cultural and architectural refinement, ”says Renfro. And remember another more recent precedent: in 2010, Prince Charles of England He has already raised great criticism by requesting (and getting) the withdrawal of a residential project from Chelsea Barracks, in London, from Richard Rogers’ studio, and promoting a neoclassical profile alternative.


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