A draft executive order that surfaced recently in USA with the working title of “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” is hogging the limelight nowadays. If the draft becomes the final, classical architecture, inspired by Greek and Roman architecture, which has been almost sidelined/ignored since 1960s may get a new lease of life.
The draft order decrees that for all federal courthouses, as well as all federal buildings in and around the District of Columbia, “the classical architectural style stall be the preferred and default style.” Elsewhere, the emphasis would be on styles “that value beauty … and command admiration by the public.”
“Federal architecture should once again inspire respect instead of bewilderment or repugnance,” reads what sources say is the current version of the draft. “Classical and traditional architectural styles have proven their ability to inspire such respect for our system of self-government.” The order would only apply design rules to federal public buildings and some memorials whose designs are developed through the General Services Administration.
Why this sudden love?
This suddenly developed love of President Trump towards classical architecture is however, little astonishing. Trump as a developer is known for building towers wrapped in glitzy metal and glass. Trump Towers at Columbus Circle in New York City and The Trump Tower in Chicago, were built with modernist influences. So, in politics nothing is permanent and its more so when a proven businessman becomes the head of the state. And in an election year situation become more volatile as the people in race for presidency tend to stoke up their base by whatever means one can. One need to wait and watch whether ‘draft order’ will remain in vogue even after the Presidential elections.
If the Executive order comes into force, there will be less glass, steel, etc. in government building constructions and more of domes, wood, etc. More importantly there will be reversal of old philosophy that “The design must flow from the architectural profession to the government. And not vice versa.”
Classical Vs Modern
The differences between classic and modern architecture are quite distinct, not only in terms of style and form but also the materials required to execute their design. For example, classical buildings require materials that are readily available such as brick and timber, while modern buildings involve materials that are more industrialized, like glass and steel.
It has been nearly a hundred years since the birth of modern architecture and before that we had classical architecture which was evolved over hundreds of years under various empires in Europe.
In the classical period, building technology and building materials were relatively backward. Classical architectures use mainly beam-column structures or arch-ring structures of wood and stone. With such a structural system, architects are greatly limited in their architectural design. Architectures based on such a structure generally form a continuous facade. Such a facade is the basic object of the architect’s aesthetic treatment. On the other hand, for modern architecture, block is the aesthetic basic object of architecture. Le Corbusier pointed out that “Architecture is a brilliant, correct and clever performance of some of the combined block in the light.”
Can classical buildings be Green?
Today Green movement is catching up and even the construction sector is not spared. Classical architecture went off from the radar much earlier than the present green movement took off. Some doubt therefore that classical architecture was evolved not keeping green requirements in mind. But it should be borne in mind that Green building does not always require the latest in smart grid technology, solar panels and expensive recycled materials. Even classical style buildings can be designed to maximise air flow, mitigate their impact on the local environment and offer comfort to residents. Further, wood as a building material is making a come back in the West and classical architecture too is heavily dependent on wood as construction material. Thus, going forward classical may not attract the ire of green activists.
If the draft executive order becomes final one, it will have implications the way buildings are designed not only in US but also elsewhere. There are instances (plenty of them) where many blindly follow the American Big Brother and India too is not an exception to this thinking. It will definitely help to revive classical architecture in Americas and rest of the world and in India too which has rich heritage of classical architecture may also follow the suit. It is an interesting to wait watch.