February 7, 2020

"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."

"This executive order gives voice to the 99 percent — the ordinary American people who do not like what our government has been building," wrote Marion Smith, chairman of the National Civic Art Society, in a text quoted in "Draft Executive Order Would Give Trump a New Target: Modern Design/The proposed order, called 'Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again'" (NYT).

Also quoted there is architecture professor Roger K. Lewis: "At the most fundamental level it’s a complete constraint on freedom of expression.... 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 top-rated comment:
I have no doubt that this initiative like many coming out of this White House has at its' heart the desire to promote the ideals of white supremacy. The elevation of "classical" style over others can have no other real intention. It is not practical or affordable to build this way anymore. This is all about white nostalgia for the good old days. What's next? Control of the NEA to endow only "classical" art? Ridding the Smithsonian of all non western artifacts? Banning jazz? This is all on the way I promise.
White supremacy! As if black people are responsible for those soul-deadening modern federal building.

Here's a picture of the J. Edgar Hoover Building to temper your thoughts:



Another commenter at the NYT says: "The condemnation of Modern as degenerate is chilling. Where have we heard this before?" On that topic, please take 2 hours to watch the great documentary "The Architecture of Doom."

159 comments:

rehajm said...

JFC, it's called Brutalism for a reason...

tcrosse said...

Sounds like Prince Charles.

Marc said...


“The Architect as Totalitarian”

By Theodore Dalrymple

https://www.city-journal.org/html/architect-totalitarian-13246.html

gilbar said...

some idiot commentator said...
What's next? Control of the NEA to endow only "classical" art?


How about Getting RID of the NEA?

There are Two basic types of music
Popular
and
Unpopular

The NEA takes our money, to support music we do NOT want to listen to

J. Farmer said...

Just yesterday morning, my father and I were having a drink on a rooftop hotel bar in Charleston, directly across from the Custom House. We both lamented how such beautiful buildings are never built anymore.

Balfegor said...

Even if this is Trump's only legacy, future generations will remember him as a great man.

Seeing Red said...

Munich is an ugly, cold city.

Dave Begley said...

The next step is to defund PBS and NPR.

Lucid-Ideas said...

Impressionism was truly a sign of things to come. The absurdism of Camus's existentialism put on canvas long before his time, and infecting every other art form including architecture. You only need to look at classical architecture in Europe that's been re-worked or had modern additions to see how glaringly ugly it is. Look at what they were proposing for Notre Dame last year!

rhhardin said...

Make federal buildings fun. Tilted floors.

clint said...

I expect we'll see a lot more of this over the next nine months -- President Trump taking a position supported by 90+% of Americans (brutalist concrete buildings are ugly) and watching the left explode in outrage, not realizing how many independent voters they're insulting along the way.

Dave Begley said...

Mary D. Begley, my daughter, has already weighed in on Brutalism. Verdict? Not that bad.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

I didn’t know James Lileks did guest posts here. Cool!

SDaly said...

Modernist architecture and soul-crushing socialism go hand in hand.

Carter Wood said...

Reporting on this has been atrocious. From DCist, which is local NPR affiliate's news partner:

https://dcist.com/story/20/02/06/trump-order-would-require-classical-style-for-new-federal-buildings-architects-arent-happy-about-it/

The Trump administration is reportedly considering an executive order that would toss out the current “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture” and mandate that new federal buildings adhere to a classical style.

A draft executive order called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” (yes, really) would require future U.S. government buildings in D.C. to be designed classically, as a default: Think the Treasury Building, the White House, or—as the draft order is said to suggest—the structures of “democratic Athens” and “republican Rome” beloved by the Founding Fathers.


What mandate? What requirement?

Wince said...

"I don't see architecture coming from you."

TerriW said...

I suppose it's worth losing the jokes about going to school in a building that looks like a prison.

henry said...

Architects are into their "art." see Ayn Rand. Like the art community, they lost perspective.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Maybe Trump is baiting Progressives into defending Brutalism and Bauhaus, and then suddenly THEY are the Nazi sympathizers! Genius.

hombre said...

Next thing you know he will be banning soft drinks over 16 ounces and guns. Oh! Wait!

henry said...

It's all panopticon to them.

SDaly said...

Historic Philadelphia street on right, IM Pei's work on the left.

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

Why is Paris such a beautiful city? They had strict architectural codes for hundreds of years.

Xmas said...

The order also says that other styles can be considered if they match the predominate style of the area. So, an Art Deco city like Miami can have Art Deco Federal Buildings.

Fernandinande said...

"The condemnation of Modern as degenerate is chilling. Where have we heard this before?"

As far as I can tell, the only people using the term "degenerate" are the NYet commenters.

Where have we heard of people making-up fake quotes before?

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

Demolish the FBI building? Do it. Freaking awesome!

Fernandinande said...

Why is Paris such a beautiful city?

It's not.

Dave Begley said...

I take strong exception to this Trump policy proposal. The Nebraska State Capitol building is one of the great works of American architecture and it is Art Deco.

Trump should be impeached for this. Draft a new Article of Impeachment now.

SDaly said...

Another travesty.

hombre said...

So the pinkies have no problem with “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture” currently existing. It’s only if Trump provides guidance that they object. Hard to imagine that, isn’t it? LOL!

Having said that, this exercise seems pretty silly to me.

Bob Boyd said...

Looking at that picture of the Hoover Building, the design seems like a perfect symbol of the insular elitism that has infected our nation's capital.
The overbearing top floors are dramatically separated from the box of cogs that makes up the bulk of the structure.
You're either up there on those top floors or you're not.

Big Mike said...

One can have a lovely, classical building that is inefficient, but anyone foolish enough to imagine that the Brutalist J. Edgar Hoover Building is efficient in any sense of the word needs to work there for a while.

(Yes, as a matter of fact, I did work there many years ago.)

Skeptical Voter said...

This would not be the first government effort to make public buildings improve their appearance. Back in the late 50s and early 60's the California state college system was undergoing rapid expansion--and the campuses needed buildings now! As a result, one of the new major classroom buildings on the San Diego State campus looked like a Nabisco saltine cracker box. The older part of the campus was built in a graceful Spanish colonial style.

The state legislature finally wised up. Legislation passed allowing as much as 5% of the cost of a new classroom building to be spent on making it attractive.

Trump's executive order (assuming that it is eventually issued) won't be the first, nor should it be the last, executive or legislative effort trying to make public buildings more attractive.

Nonapod said...

I like brutalism in certain contexts, but I strongly dislike it for government buildings. I don't like government buildings that evoke thoughts of the Soviet Union. So, yeah, once again I agree with Trump here.

That said, I'm a little skeptical of Trump's stylistic sensibilities. His NY city penthouse looks like it was designed as a team effort between Liberace and Uday Hussein.

Browndog said...

Everyone laments the lack of character in modern architecture.

Unless Trump mentions it-

Tim said...

Classical is beautiful. Alost every government building ("modern") is hideous.

Beasts of England said...

The FBI building is symbolic of the agency: offensive.

Fernandinande said...

complete constraint on freedom of expression

Poor architecture professor Roger K. Lewis! He might be constrained!

If some wretched architect wants to create monstrosities he should do it on his own dime, not the taxpayers'.

Lurker21 said...

That Hoover building seems a bit fascistic or Hitlerian. I think "The Man in the High Castle" because the top story is pushed up and separated from the rest of the building like that and hangs out over the sidewalk, like some aerie for the ruling elite. The massive concrete supporting slabs also have something fascistic about them. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, but I never thought I'd ever be confidently writing about architecture as if I understood anything about it and never thought I'd be nonchalantly throwing around words like "aerie" and "nonchalantly." Victory!

But the policy probably isn't going to get very far. What you'll get are the same concrete or glass buildings with some little humanizing touch or twist. Or you'll get something like the pseudo-Williamsburg Fannie Mae building, done in colonial style, but no more inspiring than any concrete brutalist monstrosity. Uncle Sam's Fannie is now being converted into a Wegman's anchored mall. There may be some lesson about civic architecture in a commercial society in that.

Fernandinande said...

NYeT: A draft of an executive order called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again”

They don't provide a link because they don't want you to know what it actually says.

SDaly said...

Did anyone condemn the modern buildings as "degenerate" or is that the commenters own description so that s/he can then leap to the inevitable Nazi analogy?

Xmas said...

The Federal Courthouse in Austin seems to be one of the impetuses for this new directive.

Bob Boyd said...

MAGA

Mount Alotta Gargoyles Again

Orly said...

Have a look at the Marcel Breuer designed HUD building in Washington DC. When Jack Kemp was HUD Secretary, he called it 10 stories of basements.

Harsh Pencil said...

I wonder if it is workable to instead of requiring that Federal buildings be classical in some sense, that they be required to "fit in" with their environments, or that they simply inspire some sense of joy to the observer. Take a look at pictures of Seaside, Florida, where the Truman Show was filmed. It's lovely. It was meant to inspire good feelings for those who looked at it, walked its streets, and so on.

tcrosse said...

George Mosse, who escaped the Nazis, must be spinning in his grave that this brutalist monstrosity bears his name: Humanities Building

The Drill SGT said...

The JEH Building is perfectly functional, if a bit ugly. It was designed When Hoover was still Director in the 60's. I period of unrest )racial and anti-war) in DC. It features:

- No windows on the ground floor. attackers face blank concrete when they can even get to the walls because:
- a dry moat
- narrow bridges to the first floor doors. only 4
- a parapet on the second floor where troops can overlook the demonstrators
- a center courtyard to stage armored vehicles or reserves

In other words, it's a well designed castle

Dave Begley said...

Fern:

Just another example of the Fake News doing what it does.

Roger Sweeny said...

I couldn't help thinking of Flanders' and Swann's Design For Living.

The Drill SGT said...

ps: I worked there for a while. don't get me started on the basements (3)

Maillard Reactionary said...

Ironically, the models that Herr Hitler is examining so closely would look right at home next to monstrosities like the FBI building.

What these morons don't get is that the reason why "classical" architecture is classical is because the designs have stood the test of time, pleasing people of varied backgrounds over many centuries. Is there anyone who can maintain with a straight face that the "Brutalist" style has aged well?

And for that matter, I'm all for abolishing the NEA, funding for PBS, NPR, and the rest of it. This is a wealthy country; art or media that has an audience or market will find it.

If that's too hard for some artists, they can just learn to code.

Fernandinande said...

"Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again"

It's a scan, unfortunately, not text.

They define and seem to dislike "brutalist style", but wouldn't that be the preferred style of facists 'n' other statists like the NYeT authorettes and commenters? Maybe they're upset over the potential loss of those ugly buildings.

tim in vermont said...

"ronically, the models that Herr Hitler is examining so closely would look right at home next to monstrosities like the FBI building. “

Right, the people complaining are actually the fascists.

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

Ugly architecture is a commons crime.
Looking for a home in Colorado is a depressing slog. Most are ugly, depressing, and stupidly laid out. It's either tri-level dungeon or drywall kingdom of weird angles.

Maillard Reactionary said...

Nonapod: "I like brutalism in certain contexts..."

Maximum-security prisons, for one.

AllenS said...

What's missing in that Hitler photo, is an HO train set.

tim in vermont said...

These ugly buildings are Gramsci tactics. Same as tearing down beautiful statues, to replace them with what? We all know. You know who the leading Gramsci scholar in the United States was until he passed, the one who was so proud of his son? Pete the Cheat’s dad.

gspencer said...

Lets get Frank Gehry to design everything.

JAORE said...

My campus was, t my biased eyes, beautiful. The numerous buildings were not identical by any measure. Yet they had a consistency that led to an identity.

Then a decade or so after I graduated the modern buildings appeared. Visually discord abounded. Scale, shapes, materials were disjointed.

I'm sure they were cheaper.

h said...

Here's the dirty little secret: Donald Trump and his associates have an eye on either the FBI site shown in the photo, or on the privately owned site across 9th street as the location for the Trump Presidential Library (and after his death, the "Trump Memorial"). It's right on PA Ave, so every inaugural parade (and many high profile funeral processions) will go right past the location; and it's close enough to the Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and FDRoosevelt memorials (and the Ronald Reagan Building at 13th and PA) to make it part of a standard "Presidential Memorials Tour" package.

Jim Gust said...

Hey, I visited the HUD building on business about 40 years ago. Orly at 9:16 jogged my memory. I thought the inside was much worse than the outside. Seemed almost like a prison layout.

I like the "new" Boston City Hall, although it must be one of the least efficient buildings ever erected.

More smart politics from the Trumpster.

Fernandinande said...

In other words, it's a well designed castle

Then how come real castles look much cooler?

Does the FBI building have overhanging holes and troughs so as to pour boiling oil or water on unwanted visiters? (Oil gets hotter, water has a higher specific heat...take your pick or use a combination)

Nowadays unwanted visitors worry about spy cameras instead of boiling oil, a worrisome symptom of modern "degeneracy".

tim in vermont said...

"Looking for a home in Colorado is a depressing slog. “

I want a house like Little Bill was building in the movie Unforgiven. It’s just like my Grandmother’s house, she was born in the 1880s. But with modern energy savings, but all of the houses they are building today are just cranked out of factories, or designed more to minimize construction expenses than for livability. Or the larger ones all look like they were designed on computers from the same software, hinting at earlier, richer styles, in Tuscany, or Mexico, or wherever.

Bob Boyd said...

The Drill SGT said...
The JEH Building is...a well designed castle


Interesting. I didn't know that.
But I also don't like it. Brings to mind Nietzsche's warning about becoming the monster.

Temujin said...

Brutalist architecture is deadening to me. I think of Soviet/Stalinist architecture when I see it.

Not sure that I love any government taking on stand on what the buildings look like, but...as long as they are simply the Federal buildings, I suppose that makes sense. However, once you declare it, you have to be prepared for the next administration to put it's own Gaudian standards on the next round of buildings.

For that top comment, suggesting that classical architecture is akin to white supremacy, my suggestion to those people would be to run, not walk, to the university from which their degree(s) came and demand their money back.

SDaly said...

Harsh Pencil -

I generally agree with your comment. There are great non-classical, local vernacular styles across the country. There are a lot of beautiful county courthouses, city halls, etc., that aren't classical. The guidelines may be too confining, but most of the people complaining are not making those arguments. They are supporting the inhuman styles that destroy harmony and alienate the people.

tim in vermont said...

After typing that comment, I went to Twitter and immediately got an ad from a concrete block producer.

Char Char Binks, Esq. said...

We should only use Indigian and Black architecture, as soon as they come up with some.

stevew said...

Oh, they've got him this time.

Boston has a number of Brutalist structures, Boston City Hall principle among them. Other than some architect quoted in a Boston Globe article last summer, I've heard of no one that likes or defends that style. As others have said up thread: Trump's dislike and directive against this style has created new legions of defenders. That White Supremacy comment has to be a joke, right?

tim in vermont said...

"They are supporting the inhuman styles that destroy harmony and alienate the people.”

Gramsci.

rcocean said...

So Modern Art and ugly buildings are an attack on white people? that's what's behind it all? Hmm.. the left-wing support for it all makes sense now.

rcocean said...

I think we can all agree that "Freedom of Expression" means Taxpayers should have no voice in what they pay money for.

Chuck said...

This could have been a blog post about the bio and credentials and thinking of landscape architect, urban planner (and, I presume, avid Trump supporter) Marion Leland Smith.

But really, it’s about NYT commenters.

I’d love (and I mean this seriously and sincerely) to see a NYT article about Althouse.blogspot commenters.

rcocean said...

The Architectural Elite will find an Obama Federal Judge to strike this down because...reasons. No action is beyond Judicial review. Remember: Elected officials don't count - only Federal judges.

rcocean said...

Can Chuck just kill himself? Asking for a friend.

Ken B said...

“They don't provide a link because they don't want you to know what it actually says.”

Bingo.

First law of statistics: if he hides the data he's lying.

CWJ said...

Read Tom Wolfe's From Bauhaus to Our House.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I'm torn on this issue of having mandates for public buildings.

The people of the area should be allowed to vote on the final design after being given several choice. After all, they are likely the ones paying for it and have to live there.

Some issues in a building artistic design. It should reflect the character of the area. Historical influences. Be congruent with the weather conditions of the area. Not horribly clash with the surrounding community.

Issues with functionality are extremely important. Heating, cooling, light, windows, open space, structural issues in earthquake or hurricane county...and so on.

Lots of elements that can't be mandated in a one size fits all edict.

The PEOPLE who live with, work in and have to LOOK at the building should get the final say. If they like Russian Brutalist Box styles Yuck....so be it.

Personally I would vote for Dave Beglely's choice The Nebraska State Capitol building is one of the great works of American architecture and it is Art Deco.

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

The recently deceased philosopher Roger Scruton had a lot to say about the ugliness of modern architecture and its' coarsening effect on people.

AllenS said...

The only thing important in any new building being put up in DC, is how fast can it be emptied due to fire or a terrorist attack.

Fernandinande said...

Any regular reader of his will know that Lileks is quite informed of, and interested in archtecture, and he says of "Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again": "Fantastic! And of course, that’s because I’m a Nazi. But we’ll get to that."

Fernandinande said...

Looking for a home in Colorado is a depressing slog.

IIRC C.U.'s engineering building looked like a misaligned cinder block.

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

Not all modern architecture is bad. Much of it is. Certainly the brutalist crap is.

Tommy Duncan said...

In the Hoover building which window is in Room 101?

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

Fernand..
CU's engineering building is an odd eye-sore among CU's beautiful Richardsonian Romanesque & neo-classical buildings. I marvel at the relatively new Law School buildings that sit on the southern edge of the campus. They are new but they were built to blend with the old. Lovely job by the architects.

chuck said...

The condemnation of Modern as degenerate is chilling.

"Modern" isn't modern, it is a relic of the fascistic architectural past.

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

CU's law school buildings. I think they are grand.

Howard said...

Trump is no Hitler.

SDaly said...

The people of the area should be allowed to vote on the final design after being given several choice. After all, they are likely the ones paying for it and have to live there.

Except in Iowa. Nothing would ever get built.

Howard said...

I happen to agree with the sediments of the executive order. Have you noticed that most new apartment buildings that are going up all look the same. Earthtoned architectural features that pop in and pop out a high degree of rectangularity. It's like every city planner has adopted the exact same style for the entire country. Personally I think it is another egregious infringement upon the first amendment art and artistic taste and style is or rather it should be the epitome of free speech.

Drago said...

Banned Commenter LLR-lefty Chuck: "I’d love (and I mean this seriously and sincerely) to see a NYT article about Althouse.blogspot commenters."

LLR-lefty Chuck simply cannot get enough far left/marxist NYT reader opinions....because "severe conservative", dontchaknow.

BTW, anyone else read Byron Yorks hilarious recounting of Mitten's serial flip flops on the most important social and fiscal issues of the day over the years and how that led Mittens to actually be a severe liberal?

Great article.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Howard said: Earthtoned architectural features that pop in and pop out a high degree of rectangularity.

I know! When we drive through a town in California or past the McMansion suburbs popping up like mushrooms, we always remark..."How many shades of TAN are therre?"

Nothing but monochrome tan-ish, knock off Mediterranean or Spanish style architecture.

Ticky tacky houses all the same.

Drago said...

Speaking of "architecture", the entire "edifice" of the democrat/lefty/LLR-lefty/Lawfare Permanent Lawsuit Against Trump/Frame-up/Coup structure is collapsing all around us.

Here's the latest:
D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has tossed out the latest in the revolving door Lawfare/dem/LLR Emoluments Hoax cases the moron dems/LLR's brought against Trump.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote this in their 12-page decision (which rules the Democrat lawmakers behind the suit lack the standing required to sue.)

“The Members can, and likely will, continue to use their weighty voices to make their case to the American people, their colleagues in the Congress and the President himself, all of whom are free to engage that argument as they see fit,” the decision reads. “But we will not—indeed we cannot—participate in this debate.”

LOL

So. Much. Winning.

I certainly hope our LLR's have group rates with their local psychiatrists/therapists!!

daskol said...

Came here to post that Dalrymple piece in the 2nd comment, and left with a new documentary I want to watch. Nice. The stars of the various modern and postmodern architectural styles from internationalism to brutalism and beyond are all white, and some of them also fascists. So, uh, what the hell with that NYT comment.

daskol said...

Lovely song about a terribly ugly building

Lurker21 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lurker21 said...

When people visit pre-WWI buildings they marvel at the craftsmanship, but the consensus seems to be that the craftsmen aren't around anymore and that their work would be too expensive if it were still available. If you look at federal buildings from the 1930s, there was already something characterless, massive and "brutalist" about them. When you have to build massively and cheaply, aesthetics suffer.

Yancey Ward said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yancey Ward said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ambrose said...

"On that topic, please take 2 hours to watch the great documentary"

I always get a kick out of NYT commenters who hand out homework assignments.

Howard said...

One of the things I absolutely love about New England, DBQ, is all of the old neighborhoods where you could tell each house although somewhat similar and overall sudo Victorian Craftsman style. It's readily apparent they're all built by different people using different plans and different ideas. Amazing that after all these years people are still surviving the sweat and the sleet and the snow in these museum pieces.

Nancy Reyes said...

I believe the late Roger Scruton pointed out that not only is beauty in the environment, including beautiful architecture, actually makes people value these buildings.
https://youtu.be/bHw4MMEnmpc

MD Greene said...

The FBI building, like its evil twin, the Boston Government Building, feels like a physical assertion that big government is the boss of all of us. Brutalism is not a good look in a democracy.

I'm not sure elected officials have the vocabulary to make these choices. But sometimes the combination of politicians and famous architects can't do it either.

This still-unresolved mess almost makes the FBI HQ look good: https://theidiosyncratist.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-portland-building.html

Anonymous said...

Why? Why don't we make the world's first above-ground basement?

Narr said...

HO is 1/72 . . . I think Speer's models for the Bull Goose are of a different scale.

The late great Wolfe has been mentioned, and I see Lileks and Dalrymple are known too--good lads.

The junior high school I went to was built in the 1950s and looked like a factory; it was replaced about eight years ago with a complex that looks like a prison.

Narr
Architectural foreshadowing

Drago said...

Ambrose: "I always get a kick out of NYT commenters who hand out homework assignments."

This is a very common trait among those on the far left.

Hmmmmm. Ever notice how often our own LLR does precisely the same thing as these far left and marxist commenters?

It's almost as if.......

Patrick Henry said...

I'm a registered architect, so I'm going to appeal to my authority here for this argument.

First, the Whitehouse should stay out of it. Presidents come and go and they all have different tastes. Our current POTUS is a bit gaudy and I wouldn't want his tastes setting the standards for years to come.

Second, I will agree that modernism is hard to do well. It's easy to do poorly and therefore we see lots of it. Modernism often experiments with different materials or novel ways of using materials. This often leads to poor building performance.

Having said that, a blanket "thou shalt not design modern buildings" is just wrong. What we need are a broader group of people commenting on designs (which leads to my third point)>

Third, we need to stop trying to get the "star" architects to design everything. Most "star" architects, like the leading "artists" go for shock and novelty over the very nebulous qualities of "good" and "timeless". But, like porn, you know a good and timeless building when you see it, even if its hard to define.

Fourth, "classical" architecture is very difficult to do well, too. It can be a kit-of-parts as there are actual rules for classical design. But the devil is in the details and the details of high quality classical designs are very labor intensive and expensive (maybe this can be addressed with modern 3D printing and robotics).

Fifth, and finally, architects have long had the hubris to think that architecture should be about social policy. We need to get over that and stop thinking a building is way to solve social justice problems and just get back to designing "good" and "timeless" buildings.

buwaya said...

HO is 1/76
There is a long running discrepancy in model making between the HO train scale and the 1/72 model kit scale. They don't quite match.

Michael said...

You want perfect examples of sterile archetecture? Look at most public high schools. I get it...built to be inexpensive, functional and flaexible. Architects hired by lowest bid fall back on standard, boring designs. No profit in something inspirational.

Five years ago I lived in a town where the same firm designed the new high school as well as the new county prison. Hard time telling them apart.

Chuck said...

...
BTW, anyone else read Byron Yorks hilarious recounting of Mitten's serial flip flops on the most important social and fiscal issues of the day over the years and how that led Mittens to actually be a severe liberal?
...


How did Byron do, with the onetime pro-choice, national health care-admiring, pro-assault weapons ban, “pro-gay and being cagey about it” Donald Trump?

I’ve always sort of liked Byron York. It’s a bit painful for me to see him get locked into Trumpism. Byron will certainly not be able to claim that nobody warned him, and nobody saw it coming, when Trump’s dementia becomes full blown and fully debilitating.

buwaya said...

Your problem here is cultural and social. The caste of people who are the gatekeepers to the architectural profession are decadent. They will fight this, effectively, as there are no replacements for them in their pipeline. This is the problem with attempting political solutions on a cultural problem. The real solution is to purge and replace that elite, and destroy the career pipeline, the cursus honorum for that profession.

buwaya said...

Everything is about personnel.
If you want to change ideas, you must change people.

Anonymous said...

Lurker21: If you look at federal buildings from the 1930s, there was already something characterless, massive and "brutalist" about them.

Absolutely. A lot of '30s architecture scattered around the country has always struck me as Stalinist. (But I'm someone who gets a whiff of the off-puttingly proto-Stalinist in earlier buildings and public spaces universally held to be marvels of beauty - like, say, the palace of Versailles, or the Place Vendôme. So I may be a tad paranoid, er, hypersensitive on that score.)

When you have to build massively and cheaply, aesthetics suffer.

The rarity of the necessary craft skills explains some of this, but I'm not much persuaded by the "our stuff is ugly because we can't afford beauty" line. By all accounts we're significantly wealthier than earlier societies, and yet they cared about, and produced, beauty in their public architecture. I think the "fuck you, human beings" ugliness of our public architecture is signaling a lot more than info about budgetary restraints.

daskol said...

Ugly buildings in the various flavors of modernism are a Soviet-era meme injected into our society to weaken and demoralize us. I don't know if that's really true, but it sure feels it.

mockturtle said...

It is not practical or affordable to build this way anymore.

This is patently absurd. In the UK, new buildings in rural areas are often built to the style and standards of their historic neighbors. Here in AZ, the Spanish stucco and native adobe styles are still popular. There really is no excuse for ugly buildings other than the warped tastes of many modern architects wishing to make a statement. They are eerily similar to fashion designers in that respect.

Anonymous said...

Patrick Henry: Thanks for the professional input.

'Having said that, a blanket "thou shalt not design modern buildings" is just wrong. What we need are a broader group of people commenting on designs (which leads to my third point)>

Third, we need to stop trying to get the "star" architects to design everything. Most "star" architects, like the leading "artists" go for shock and novelty over the very nebulous qualities of "good" and "timeless". But, like porn, you know a good and timeless building when you see it, even if its hard to define.'


I've always had the suspicion that the ascendancy of "starchitects" is just another facet of the philistinism of the bureaucrats who get to make the decisions about public buildings. They (not the complaining public) are the stereotypical rubes who'll buy whatever the aggressive (and self-interested) style-bullies have told them is cool. As you say, "we need a broader group of people" involved in this decision-making.

'Fourth, "classical" architecture is very difficult to do well, too. It can be a kit-of-parts as there are actual rules for classical design. But the devil is in the details and the details of high quality classical designs are very labor intensive and expensive (maybe this can be addressed with modern 3D printing and robotics).'

Attempting "classical" at modern scale also seems to me to carry the danger of falling into kitsch, but that may be true of any historical style.

'Fifth, and finally, architects have long had the hubris to think that architecture should be about social policy. We need to get over that and stop thinking a building is way to solve social justice problems and just get back to designing "good" and "timeless" buildings.'

Architects, and everybody else. (Just change "buildings" in the above into "fill in the blank".)

And lastly: 'Our current POTUS is a bit gaudy and I wouldn't want his tastes setting the standards for years to come.'

Good Lord, no. (Admire your restraint with that "a bit".)

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

buwaya said...
The real solution is to purge and replace that elite, and destroy the career pipeline.


US architectural services are very competitive globally, and are one of relatively few US industries to compete successfully in China. buwaya's solution is to tear it all down. What a surprise.

stlcdr said...

I like my federal government buildings to be cold grey concrete, and unpleasant to look at or be in, to reflect what government actually is.

Lance said...

It is not practical or affordable to build this way anymore.

Greek and Roman isn't practical, but this is?

Or this?

Please tell us more about what's practical and affordable.

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

The Guggenheim is not intended to be 'practical', yet if you ever try to go there you realize it has been a functional success. It draws crowds.

Great slabs of concrete, at pretty much any angle, are generally pretty cheap.

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...
Maybe Trump is baiting Progressives into defending .. Bauhaus, and then suddenly THEY are the Nazi sympathizers!


Might want to read up on the Bauhaus history.

buwaya said...

Its not a US architectural style. It is mid-century European made (more) popular by its import and massive financing in the US. Elsewhere it was in large part pushed by communist-socialist elites.

If you want a more American style think art deco. Not originally so but the US ran with it better and further, and there is nothing socialist about it.

And to have US architects was and is a postwar prestige move.
Because such values are created in US academia.
Which has hegemonic power - we are back to Gramsci.

Lnelson said...

This post reminds me of the Eisenhower story from when he was president of Columbia University after his term in DC.

A new building was under construction and the building architect had a disagreement with the landscape architect on where to put a sidewalk.
Eisenhower told them to plant grass, and to put the sidewalk in the next year where the footpath was worn over the lawn

Big Mike said...

That Hoover building seems a bit fascistic or Hitlerian

Yes. I think Adolph would have loved the design.

Greg the class traitor said...

Also quoted there is architecture professor Roger K. Lewis: "At the most fundamental level it’s a complete constraint on freedom of expression.... 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."

1: Your "freedom of expression" does not extend to telling other people how they will spend their money. Trump won, your idiots lost

2: The "experts" in this are idiots. Apparently the purpose of "going to college" to "study" this is that all taste and decency gets destroyed in the process.


The top-rated comment:
It is not practical or affordable to build this way anymore.


Bull

What's next? Control of the NEA to endow only "classical" art?

Hell yes! There's no reason why taxpayers should be funding left wing BS. You want new, cuttign edge crap? Pay for it yourself

buwaya said...

Brutalism was in fact popular among both "modern" idologies of the mid-20th century.

You have a semi-exception in Albert Speer and his circle. But then you have to exclude the French and a great many more. Franco's default style was brutalist. Spanish cities like French ones are loaded with apartment blocks that look like those on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Better kept up and higher quality materials I believe, but very similar.

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

Dave Begley said...
The Nebraska State Capitol building is one of the great works of American architecture and it is Art Deco.


Art Deco is generally pretty good. I wish the style had lasted longer and been more influential. Shout out to art nouveau and Charles Rennie Mackintosh the great Scottish architect and furniture designer as well. It would have been good for this to have been more influential at the time.

Howard said...

LA/SoCal is great for art deco

chuck said...

If you want a more American style think art deco.

It *is* fun and enjoyable to look at, the attention to decorative details would be a welcome change.

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

The Drill SGT said...
In other words, it's a well designed castle


A functional success and why it is hated. A lot of little Italian castles in city centers aren't all that attractive either, although they have the advantage of a centuries old patina and more attractive buildings immediately adjacent. A hodge-podge of styles pieced together for primarily practical ends. Not to say all medieval castles are ugly but many are not exactly attractive.

Concrete is cheap and functional, nothing is really going to change that. It was cheap when the Romans built the Pantheon and it was cheap when the basement of my house was built.

buwaya said...

LA downtown is full of 1920's-30's wonders.
Unfortunately most of it is terribly run down.
The Jewelry District, and most everwhere around it, is a disgrace.
Or so it was a year ago. I doubt its improved.

Narr said...

What we saw of central Berlin still had massive Soviet-era apartment blocks that would fit into any ugly city anywhere. Lots of that in Czechia too, and in both cases some of them appear almost mellow now--they can afford maintenance, and paint, which helps a lot.

The Berliner Dom and Reichstag are spectacularly ugly, and to their credit (IIRC) Hitler and Speer despised both.

Narr
Next they'll tell us "classical" music is RACISS! Oh wait

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

Patrick Henry said...
Fourth, "classical" architecture is very difficult to do well, too. It can be a kit-of-parts as there are actual rules for classical design. But the devil is in the details and the details of high quality classical designs are very labor intensive and expensive.


Where I live McMansions are dressed up in Colonial style, with blasphemous white plastic siding. From my perspective it does not work very well. Neither capturing the charm of the originals or offering anything lasting, just another transient fad. My relatively young daughter loves the '80s style ranches in the area, which I find hard to take. To her they are an old classic buildings. A lot of architectural taste is about nostalgia.

Big Mike said...

@Patrick Henry, I’d like your take on I. M. Pei’s National Gallery of Art East Building. I was surprised how little art they were actually able to display in such a large building. Of course the space it had to fit into was challenging.

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

To concrete I would add the inescapable linoleum tiles, acoustic ceiling tiles and dry wall. I have spent most of my life surrounded by this crap. It is genuinely enjoyable to go to Italy every now and then to live in a different built environment.

Steven said...

Having said that, a blanket "thou shalt not design modern buildings" is just wrong.

The only specific styles prohibited are Brutalist and Deconstructionist, while Classical is merely the "preferred and default" style for the national capital area and federal courthouses. There is no blanket ban on modern buildings.

What we need are a broader group of people commenting on designs (which leads to my third point)

The draft requires both a public comment period and panels drawn from the general public (excluding artists, architects, engineers, art & architecture critics, and members of the building trades) when building.

The Drill SGT said...

stevew said...
Oh, they've got him this time.

Boston has a number of Brutalist structures, Boston City Hall principle among them.


San Francisco has one of America's most beautiful City Halls. 1916. Too bad the inmates are such loons.

SDaly said...

For me, the Marin County Civic Center is a great non-traditional style government building, but it's location-specific.

tcrosse said...

Central Vienna and Budapest are full of beautiful buildings not of the Palladian style, and none of them built after World War I.

Jim at said...

I didn’t know James Lileks did guest posts here. Cool!

My thoughts exactly.

SDaly said...

Steven,

Thanks for the details. I took some effort but I found the guidelines, which are not as restrictive as the news reports have insinuated.

mockturtle said...

Can anything be worse than track lighting? Whoever thought it up should be taken out and shot.

narciso said...

you rang:



http://lileks.com/bleats/archive/20/0220/020520.html

Gospace said...

I looked it up to make sure my memory was correct. HO scale is 1/87.

N scale, which I built my model railroad back in high school is 1/160.

I'm contemplating building a glass topped coffee table with a 1/220 Z scale layout inside.

I always thought the model airplane kit makers should have standardized to the well established model railroad scales.

Marc said...

My first takeaway from the NYT article on this, from a couple of days ago, was 'the fools think that Mr Trump is himself going to be making these decisions' or, anyway, that they were pretending to believe this.

The one architect I know of, who sits on the panel or board that advises on these federal architecture matters, is Duncan Stroik, famous in a certain part of the Catholic world for creating churches that are beautiful churches and not permanent circus tents erected circa 1970.

This is at the Spectator, by Dominic Green. Hmm; it appears to be paywalled but I read it via Twitter this morning-- it works to go through my tweet but there are bound to be other ways of getting to it.

If one word stands for the corruption of government, it’s ‘Watergate’, the name of a hideous concrete ‘superblock’ combining luxury barracks for congressmen and senators with sad office spaces. Its architect, Luigi Moretti, had earlier been responsible for such masterpieces of democratic design as the Mussolini Forum sports complex in Rome, featuring the Duce Gym (1928-38), not forgetting his memorable House of the Fascists. Moretti’s fascist past wasn’t incidental to his architectural style. It was integral to it, just as it was for the prince of poured concrete, Le Corbusier the solar-worshipping racist nutjob.

Maillard Reactionary said...

Gospace: The model train enthusiasts in Japan really like tiny trains (small houses, small train sets). Naturally they are very detailed and beautiful.

There are shops that specialize in them in the area of Osaka called "Den-den town".

The trains we had as kids were the big O-scale ones, that were supposed to be kid-proof. We were never allowed to play with them to find out... probably just as well.

Maillard Reactionary said...

The Drill SGT: "San Francisco has one of America's most beautiful City Halls. 1916."

Philadelphia too. It's full of wild detail from the ground level up. A tour is very worthwhile for anyone who happens to be in town, if one is so inclined. I don't know of anything like it elsewhere in the country, but I'm not really an architecture buff.

Its inmates are equally crazy as any on the other coast, of course, but at least in Philly you can get soft pretzels.

Maillard Reactionary said...

Regarding the permanence of concrete: The concrete that the Romans built with is indeed very long lasting. However, modern builders are enamored of reinforced concrete. It is a way of getting the material to do something it does not do well by itself (i.e., handle tension loads). Unfortunately, as the rebar inevitably corrodes (nobody uses stainless steel rebar) the rust expands and cracks the concrete matrix resulting in an irreversible failure process.

You're lucky to get more than 30 years out of that crap, but by then the architects and politicians responsible have retired.

Totally agree with ARM @1:18-- Those materials just look cheesy. They don't wear well and just shout cheap, cheap, cheap every time you look at them.

Don't get me started on the indoor-outdoor carpet.

Gospace said...

Ahhh, rebar. It is true that no one makes stainless steel rebar as a standard product, though anything can be special ordered. Stainless steel rebar would have another problem, as does iron rebar. A different thermal coefficient of expansion than concrete.

Basalt rebar, which is a standard product doesn't have that problem and doesn't rust. Should be specified in all new building projects. But government contact specifications are all cut and pasted from previous projects. I was recently talking with one contractor who ran into a problem with a government inspector because he wasn't using the red shellac thread sealant in the contract specs. Nobody uses that today as thread sealant. I don't even know if it's available. Teflon based thread sealants work much better.

Ralph L said...

Stainless steel is much softer than regular steel, so it would make a poor, expensive rebar. I tried replacing my house's rusted 1922 siding nails with longer SS ones, and many of them bent if I didn't use the old hole. Learned to live with galvanized.

Patrick Henry said...

@bigmike,

Pei's National Gallery building has some fantastic interior spaces, but the exterior looks like what you'd think a UN building should be... kind of angry.

Most museums designed by star architects are more about the architect's ego that the art that goes inside (that includes the Guggenheim in New York, which I love, and the Guggenheim in Barcelona, which is a big paperweight and horrible for displaying art).

Another non-art building that creates a great space (at least some of the most fantastic interior light) is the Denver Airport. From the outside, it's kind of stupid - yeah, yeah - the pointy bits are the mountains in the distance. But the quality of light from the teflon coated fiberglass fabric roof is just amazing inside.

But Pei's building. Most I can muster for the exterior is a "meh".

Beloved Commenter AReasonableMan said...

Phidippus said...
You're lucky to get more than 30 years out of that crap,


This is a bit of an exaggeration. The 60 year old basement of my house, which does not seem to have been built to especially exacting standards, is fine. This being said, dodgy nature of the concrete in the multistory car park where I work causes me to walk swiftly until I reach the safety of the outdoors. I routinely try assess whether or not I would survive its collapse by ducking in between large SUVS.

While others are awaiting flying cars I hold out hope for self-healing concrete, which seems to have been just over the horizon for a while now.

William said...

The new buildings that line The Highline park in NYC are colorful and whimsical. They're not government buildings, but they're attractive and interesting to look at. Isn't Brutalist a passe style?....I'm not knowledgeable about this, but my guess is that Hitler had a better eye for architecture than Stalin. Maybe any place where there is just one exclusive style of architecture looks dreary and monotonous.....Does anyone ever draw a Venn diagram that shows the overlap between Hitler's progressive views on diet and smoking with those of some contemporary politician--other than Trump. Were Hitler arrive today I think he would take a dim view of large, sugary drinks.

mockturtle said...

Driving around the country as I do, I'm always impressed by the time, effort and money small towns expended on their old city halls and county courthouses. Some of most pathetic-looking little towns nonetheless have beautiful, domed public buildings. I wish I'd collected photos of all of them.

Narr said...

If you want to feel dominated by a structure (short of standing in the ditch of a Vauban-style fortress like at, say, Wurzburg), go to Austin and visit the LBJ Library megalith. It's inhuman.

I'm quite happy to settle for large buildings that aren't offensive or actively ugly.

We didn't do trains, though my Oma and aunt got a small Maerklin layout for us without considering the need for a converter. They may have been HO (I know I can and will look it up). A few kids or dads had the big American 0-gauge stuff but that demanded lots of room.

We built mostly 1/48 and 1/72 scale kit WWI and WWII aircraft, and the occasional tank.
Got pretty good at painting . . . until the fumes from paint and glue in Kenny's upstairs room had us reeling. Good times.

Narr
Flying Circus indeed

mockturtle said...

My father was an architect and, though of the 'modern' species, designed lovely structures for the Pacific Northwest--natural wood and lots of glass to let in as much of the scanty sunlight as possible.

Marc said...

Michael Kimmelman at the Times weighs in on Mr Trump's crusade against 'modernism and diversity'.

That’s because it almost seems conceived to provoke supporters of both modern architecture and architectural diversity. It’s a shiny object, Twitter bait. The populists versus the elites. Outrage enraptures President Trump’s base. It’s a win-win for him.

But Mr Kimmelman himself is a partisan of a particular sort of politics:

But if I say I admire Mies van der Rohe’s Chicago Federal Center or Thomas Phifer’s United States Courthouse in Salt Lake City or the Oklahoma City Federal Building by Ross Barney, it would only serve as ammunition for the haters in the Twittersphere and for proponents of “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” who are basically arguing that federal architecture, like the Electoral College, doesn’t actually have to represent all the people, just select people.

Kirk Parker said...

Ralph L.,

I am not questioning being the softness of your particular stainless steel nails, but as a generality: I have quite a few stainless steel knives that contradict your blanket statement. Yes, they're not nearly as hard as the hardest steel available, but surely much much harder than ordinary rebar.

And out of curiosity, just what kind of siding was it, that you couldn't hammer a stainless steel nail into it? Concrete fiber siding wasn't exactly a thing in 1922.