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  • Writer's pictureJohn Henry Architect

If President Trump’s new Federal design mandate goes through, we are in for A RETURN TO TRADITION

Updated: May 31, 2022

Oh yes, there will be political, social, and architectural implications for the residential design and construction industry. For what has been a rather apolitical business (of design) things may get dicey in the near future. People may be forced to take sides. This is when a Great Divide may emerge and create fissures in our industry that may not heal for a generation or two.

This nation is already sharply divided politically. Do we really need politics to seep into our businesses? Isn’t a house just a house after all with no imbedded meaning? Most builders and all architects ‘feel’ like there are overtones to what they design and construct, but they didn’t know their exact meaning, intention, or desired perception.

For nearly all architects in current practice, we were taught to do things one way and one way only: in the Modern idiom. We went to the schools of architecture in the 60s and 70s with no preconceptions nor expectations whatsoever and basically had our minds of mush filled with the appreciation and veneration of one style only: Modernism based on the International Style.

The historic architecture of old was to be replaced by the expression of the latest available materials and methods. There was no more cornice, arched window, metal filigree, crown moldings, pitched roofs, gargoyles, and hand work in general. All was to be replaced by what the machine could do best.

Marble was the esteemed stone and if cut perfectly for walls and floors it was specified. Strip windows, flat roofs, horizontality, white architecture that was abstract but functional was the end result. (a typical 40s suburban house, below right)

Only a very few implied that Modern or Traditional architecture has any connection with politics. I don’t remember anything of the sort at Texas A&M University. But I did notice that no one asked a Modern style house from me when I graduated in 1978. Great commercial buildings were designed and built with sleek glass and metal curtain walls but houses “looked like” houses.

Residential architects created a host of traditional looking houses but as time went on the awards kept going to the Modern and “contemporary” house. Most trade and slick highbrow publications kept traditional design marginalized. The ones that were featured were typically set on a bluff on 18 acres with a lake or mountain view with no sign of human

habitation for miles. The photos were striking. The judges gushed with a rush of words that progressively became obtuse. A new vocation emerged: the erudite architectural critic and a group of “paper architects” who espoused wild theories of design illustrated in complex drawings. They even wrote about it more than designed it. This was done moreso in the commercial field but traditional architects were essentially cast as bumbling pariahs of kitsch by the arts intelligentsia.

Obviously, in the real world of constructing homes, magazines like this one continued to publish traditional designs but have unfortunately also have gone ‘contemporary’ or ‘modern’ in the last several years. What this does to the reader is to reinforce one style over another and influence residential architects and builders to pursue the ‘accepted’ and most cutting-edge style as the one that the consumer should prefer the most. This is the erroneous conclusion and modus operandi of all of us brainwashed by a media who has a single point of view, and this brings us now to politics.

The Marxist notion of propaganda is the business of “popularization and dissemination of political, philosophical, religious, scientific, artistic or other ideas in society through oral speech, the media, visual or other means of influencing public consciousness”.

Recently, the Trump administration floated the idea of mandating future Federal buildings (and possibly monuments) to reflect the original traditional styles that echoed Greek and Roman (even French) architectural ideals on which our country’s democratic notions were based.

The opposition from the Modernists has been swift and vicious. Traditional architecture is likened to fascism, a racist expression of white supremacists, etc. They quote recent European leanings towards the right and see a worldwide movement out to reinstate a white man’s architecture on the poor and oppressed. In the U.K. a traditional architect has been placed in some role of authority and it is expected that Modernism will suffer. Really.

For several years now I have suspected that Modernism was a left leaning arts philosophy and traditionalism was favored by the right. But it had not been cast quite as obvious as it has very recently. In an article for the authors warn that Modernism “…faithfully mirrors the ambiguities, complexities, and struggles of the contemporary urban experience, to be replaced with a singularly white, European image of human progress.

I really do like the varied palette of modernism and its push to reach the limits of technology. I like traditional design as well or possibly even more. I am very ambivalent about this and have tried to remain totally neutral about the subject. But now the gauntlet has been thrown down and the Left has defined itself and its position against the Right. I realize that you can be a liberal and enjoy designing traditional houses and vice versa. But when you have a line in the sand drawn by the Left and it has become obvious that the last 60 years has been an all out war against Traditional Architecture, that the media and academia is essentially left leaning, then you cannot sit inert with the realization that one side has been marginalized and cast as buffoons for so long.

The Right, as in the political world, has been silent for too long about meaning in general, ethics, religion, social mores, etc. They have capitulated drip by drip to the Left powered media and education system (again, the MO of the communist push to win the world over to its side). It is clear now that the Right has been enduring a mind-bending manipulation by the Left in all aspects of social and political thinking and that the last vestige and prop has been Modern art and architecture. They practically admit it now, they have to, because it is the first time they have been strongly challenged.

So now, if you understand that the entire arts industry including film, painting, theater, sculpture, writing and architecture has been in the hands of the Left propagandizing all of us, then it just seems unfair, biased and totally against all the notions of ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’ they sanctimoniously eschew. I stopped my subscriptions of Progressive Architecture and the rest of the Modernist publications years ago due to the absence of featured traditional buildings and architects.

Trump has now aimed at aesthetics and art. He finally spoke up and has been challenging the political Left for the last several years. He is now championing Traditional Architecture and I for one am glad to see this. The question is: on what side are you and what style of houses will you design and build in the next 4 to 8 years? In 1928 a German architect wrote a book titled “In What Style Shall We Build?”. At that time the subject centered around technological and social change. Now it has been clearly exposed as a demarcation of style associated with political thinking. I am ready for a change and an opportunity to Make Architecture Great Again.



The design below is a Presidential Library proposed for the 45th President based on a Traditional architecture of Greek and Roman motifs. The two base floors are Beaux Arts arrangements of columns and arches with attendant moldings. The upper levels continue the classical Renaissance use of architectural elements with a mix of the eclectic Italian and 'exotic Mediterranean' styles seen in 1930s Florida.

The structure would be concrete and steel with a stone cladding and take in between 175,000 to 250,000 square feet of space. The sketch is the center section of a three part symmetrical design. Each outer wing is connected to the center with 'hyphens' consisting of a scaled down colonnade similar to Bernini's at St. Peter's cathedral in Rome.

The internal functions will include the typical presidential library rooms and spaces. In this design, the main floor is sunken one story with one or two dramatic staircases similar to that in the Paris Opera, designed by Garnier. A central four story atrium will be open to galleries.

The inset third floor allows an outside perimeter concourse. The height from grade to the top of the pediment is approximately 95 feet.

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