Ugly? Beautiful? Time to figure it out.

Today, I finally was able to read a bunch of emails because there was no time because of a project. Since many of us subscribe to well-known (and not-well-known) online publications, I figured I should give them a glance, at least. 

What I found was three interesting pieces.

The problem of ugly architecture?  The previous president required all new buildings on federal land to be designed in the Neoclassical style. Really? An executive order was finalized at the end of December 2020. 

Denver’s Federal District includes five buildings that somehow work together, although there are real differences from different eras: the Byron White U.S. Courthouse (former Court of Appeals), 1916, Tracy, Swarthout & Litchfield, with several renovations; the U.S. Post Office, Denver Downtown Station, 1991, Hoover Berg Desmond; U.S. Courthouse and Byron G. Rogers Federal Building, 1965, James Sudler Associates, with Fisher and Davis, with many updates and energy improvements up through 2013; the U.S. Custom House, James A. Wetmore, 1931, with an addition in 1937 by G. Meredith Musick and Temple H. Buell, with green modernization projects from Bennett Wagner & Grody Architects, and, finally, the shining star: the Alfred A. Arraj U.S. Courthouse, 2002, Helmuth Obata + Kassabaum (HOK), with Anderson Mason Dale. 

To begin: At some point, because the previous president was being shown the door, many people are not even thinking about this executive order. But in February 2020, many architects weren’t at all happy because a draft executive order titled “Make Federal Buildings Great Again,” would completely rewrite the government’s existing architectural guidelines. (But, perhaps it would be too long to put on a ball cap.)

A classical architect in Denver opposed the draft of Donald Trump’s executive order to mandate Neoclassicall architecture for federal buildings. A column on Common \ Edge was written by architect Christine Huckins Franck who was the first executive director of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, the founder and director of the Center for Advanced Research in Traditional Architecture at the University of Colorado Denver, and currently chairs the US chapter of the International Network of Traditional Building, Architecture, and Urbanism.

She wrote, “Nearly 10 months ago, I resigned from the board of the National Civic Art Society (NCAS) in opposition to its strategically flawed and poorly conceived effort to reform federal architecture through the blunt force mechanism of a proposed executive order, ‘Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.’ “

It’s worth it to read what someone has to say that “blunt force” is not the way to reason things out. It’s a good read, at this link: 

A couple of months ago, I posted on ChandlerinDenver a satirical (even snarky) piece about the possibility of the previous president would want a Lie-brary. I know I laughed.

But maybe, perhaps it’s not so funny right now. The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott, the art and architecture critic, posted a column that began like this: 

“Former president Donald Trump will have an official portrait in the National Portrait Gallery at some point. And in states where he remains popular, he could have airports, bridges and schools named for him. But Trump must never have an official presidential library, and Congress should move quickly to make sure he never will.

“Things would seem to be moving toward establishing a Trump library. On Jan. 20, the day he left office, the National Archives launched the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library website. Already, there are rumors that the former president is engaged with the idea of creating some kind of presidential center, perhaps run by longtime aide Dan Scavino, with a price tag as high as $2 billion. Even before Trump left office, a sophisticated parody site, djtrumplibrary.com, began attracting admirers for its sharp architectural and design satire on what has become the norm in presidential centers. But it also deftly skewered the larger scam that has become attached to the presidency: the use of presidential libraries and museums to entrench perpetual fundraising and hagiography as a permanent part of every post-presidential career.”

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) quickly launched a real website that would be all about Donald J. Trump and the White House websites and social media accounts and records. 

But a new version of what had been called a Lie-brary is much more sophisticated (and just as funny), because of its incredible smarts that savvy architects created that new library (it’s an assumption, but….).

 djtrumplibrary.com

Finally, Dezeen posted a story about architect Alain de Botton talking about a paper from one of his students in an essay dealing with ugly architecture and “beautiful buildings.” Dezeen features architecture and design in England, but this resonates with what was going on in the White House when the previous president wanted only federal buildings to be “beautiful,” which translates into Neoclassical. 

Most cities and towns in the United States chose Neoclassical architecture for courthouses, libraries, schools, and other public buildings. As for the previous president and his mandate for “beautiful” buildings, as my mother would say: “His taste is in his mouth.”

The story in Dezeen starts off like this:

“A collective led by author and Living Architecture founder Alain de Botton has attacked the ‘dispiriting, chaotic and distasteful’ architecture of urban environments in an essay titled Why is the Modern World So Ugly?

“The article published on The School of Life organisation’s website states that our ancestors would be shocked at the ‘horrors’ of modern architecture.

” ‘One of the great generalisations we can make about the modern world is that it is, to an extraordinary degree, an ugly world,’ said the essay, which was anonymously written by a member of de Botton’s The School of Life collective.”

Later in the story, there is a paragraph that notes:

“The idea of beauty in architecture in the UK has become a hot topic following the UK government’s creation of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, which aims to encourage beautiful architecture but which has been accused of being anti-modern.” 

Sounds familiar tag-teaming with the Trump team praising the National Civic Art Society.

Here’s the link for that:

https://www.dezeen.com/2021/01/13/alain-de-botton-ugly-architecture-beautiful-buildings/

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