• Donald Trump's newest executive order sets classical styles that respect "regional heritage" as the default for federal buildings
  • Brutalist and modernist styles aren't outright banned, but their use must be justified
  • All new federal buildings must consult communities and future workers before construction

Donald Trump has unveiled the newest target for his administration’s ire: modernist architecture. An executive order signed Monday directs new federal buildings to default to classical styles, lambasting the General Services Administration for a perceived bias toward “elite architects” at the expense of the public.

The “Executive Order on Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture” stops short of outright banning modernist architecture, a change made to the original draft after an outcry from various architectural organizations.

It does, however, say that buildings should stick to the “architectural heritage” of their location, and ensure any departures from this policy are justified. The styles of Neoclassical, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Beaux-Arts and Art Deco are suggested.

The Empire State Building sits between the Bank of America building and the Chrysler Building at sunset in New York
The Empire State Building sits between the Bank of America building and the Chrysler Building at sunset in New York Reuters

The order paints a picture of a plot from the GSA in the 1960s to depart from the good sense the founders had in architecture and push elitist designs that alienated the public. Brutalism and Modern styles are singled out as undesirable, to the dismay of their fans on Twitter.

To support this narrative several modernist buildings are singled out as ugly sources of conflict in city skylines, failing to project an image of civic beauty.

“GSA selected an architect to design the San Francisco Federal Building who describes his designs as ‘art-for-art’s-sake’ architecture, intended primarily for architects to appreciate,” the order says. “While elite architects praised the resulting building, many San Franciscans consider it one of the ugliest structures in their city.”

Construction of new buildings must now go through a process of consultation with residents of the city and the people who will work there before deciding on a style. Many commentators agreed with the crux of the order and online sentiment quickly turning against brutalism as art deco fans shot their term past it on Twitter’s trending list.

Trump’s opponents said the order was an unenforceable waste of time that showed the hypocrisy of the ostensibly small-government butting into architecture decisions during a pandemic.