The latest entertainment from American politics is the Trump administration suggesting federal buildings be designed in a classical style.
This is funny and serious at the same time. Funny because it is ridiculous and demonstrates profound architectural ignorance, and serious because if this was legislated for, it would be a huge backward step for liberty.
This is not the first time world leadership looked back for their preferred architecture. Without any political judgement here, Adolf Hitler and Prince Charles had publicly displayed similar tastes. Even many everyday Australians have a love affair with the old colonial houses, opting to ignore amazing advancements in modern architecture.
Architecture is virtually the only industry suffers this affliction of preference for nostalgia over modern progress. Who choses to see a doctor or dentist who practices 150 year old methods? Who chooses to regularly use refrigerators, washing machines, cars and tooth brushes which were made in the late 1800’s?
Regardless, the fact that the Trump administration is even thinking about this should cause architects and designers to seriously consider why it has entered their consciousness. It is obvious that many people (and not just politicians) are not happy with what they perceive as the current direction of modern architecture.
Even though the every-day persons perception of modern architecture tends to be superficial, it is important because these are the people are who the architecture is for. The longing for a reversion back to the simple logical shapes and presentations of more classical architecture is a dissatisfaction and disconnection with those examples of opposing modern architecture.
Without intending to belittle anybody, if you ask a 5 year old to draw a building, they will almost guaranteed draw a square wall with symmetrical windows and door, a pitched roof with a chimney placed neatly off to one side. These children are pretty much on the button when it comes to drawing a building that performs well. These children rarely, if ever, draw an organically flowing piece of architecture, or one with really sharp angles and odd shapes.
Simplicity of architectural form is a primary ingredient in high performance buildings. This performance, then artistically arranged, can lead to great architecture. Complex, curved and highly irregular architectural forms, the forms that architecturally conservative members of the public perceive as jarring and foreign, have no practical or logical architectural benefit (they create; design, documentation, construction and maintenance problems, excessive materials and energy wastage, reduced in-use performance, limited public acceptance).
Is then the only reason architecturally “artistic and experimental” buildings exist to satisfy the ego and emotions of the designer and the owner?
The architectural community should take this opportunity to review what it perceives as what constitutes good architecture. Is it high performance with intrinsically added beauty, or egotistical emotionally based design at the expense of performance, as both cannot exist together.
The last thing anyone wants is for architects to ignore this issue and leave it to the architecturally ignorant to decide upon.