Modern architecture consists of designing something so horrendous that everyone can instantly recognize it as modern, although it’s not easy to tell if it’s architecture. Respectable institutions shy away from such models, because they know that the design of a building, like clothing, says a lot about what is inside.
Donald Trump understands this well and recently signed an executive order mandating that federal buildings in Washington remain faithful to a line of classical architecture or, at least, aim to respect beauty.
In other words, he wants the buildings to look more like Ivanka Trump than Nancy Pelosi.
This has upset some associations of architects. They accuse Trump of wanting to secretly drive away the avant-garde, postmodern, and impostors from major public buildings. And that’s false: He doesn’t want to drive them away secretly but rather with all the publicity possible.
It’s likely that if they were generally designing attractive things this presidential order wouldn’t have been necessary.
What’s more, imagine the kind of cemented monsters architectural elites must be throwing onto the streets in our day that a president is forced to come out in defense of beauty and artistic tradition, with the support of numerous polls where American citizens position themselves in favor of traditional design for public buildings, and against modernist morgue designers reaching into the treasury.
This battle for beauty isn’t nonsense. The first thing that caught the attention of visitors to the cities of Soviet Russia was the architectural sadness. Public buildings were like bags of cement everywhere. Like bureaucratic, gray, colossal jails. There was no spark of joy, no hint of tradition, not one iota of humanity.
And it wasn’t an artistic problem. They simply reflected how communists prefer their citizens: as slaves, functional, gray, dehumanized and sleepy. That despicable Soviet architecture, in reality, bared the soul of the entire revolutionary project.
Since the 70s, modern architecture has been filling cities with an ancient eccentricity, as acceptable for a morgue as for a church or a museum, under the pretext of a new artistic concept. Buildings made with the most repulsive of tastes, the epitome of modernity and a sickly departure from the classical world. I won’t stop them. With their money and private initiatives, be happy, if you can, constructing those buildings that always appear unfinished.
But public buildings are different.
An administrative building must not only reflect the dignity of the institution, but should also mirror the very history of the nation it represents, with its cultural genesis. The survival of the classical world is the great sign of Western civilization, and in a way it represents all the things that we love about our way of life: values, tradition, freedom, faith, justice, law, beauty.
We would be nothing without all the classic heritage that we carry in our pockets. That’s the spirit that federal architecture should reflect, and it’s also the spirit to which we can all relate.
An eye-catching modernist monstrosity, the kind that causes heart attacks in little old women in the crosswalks, can excite the low instincts of architectural elites and be admired by experts in contemporary art, but let’s not forget that they are the same experts who were shocked ago a few years ago when a cleaning lady at the Bolzano Museum in Italy mistakenly cleaned a contemporary work titled “Where are we going dancing tonight?” It featured a pile of empty champagne bottles thrown on the floor and sprinkled with confetti.
I have a poster of that lady in my closet. Not all heroines wear a cape.
Nothing expires as quickly and badly as modernity. Take a look at the churches that Europe built in the late 20th century, the ones that were to be so modern, and tell me if they don’t look bleakly old-fashioned. You will never have that experience in front of a Gothic cathedral or the architectural jewels of the Renaissance.
The thing is, in the end, if a public building should reflect anything, it’s continuity and the vocation of survival; it should inspire respect and a certain solemnity.
I would just add one exception to the new executive order: I would place the IRS buildings in the hands of postmodern artists.
It’s called poetic justice.
This article first appeared on The Western Journal en Español.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.