Opened in 2007, Morphosis architect Thomas Mayne designed the San Francisco Federal Building for a cool $144 million. The 18-story landmark building's strange shape and orientation is meant to "maximize natural airflow for cooling ventilation and take advantage of natural daylight for the majority of office interiors."
The Deconstructivist building "physically democratizes the workplace" by eliminating corner offices. It has elevators that stop every three floors to encourage employee interaction. With its sky gardens, tea salons, flexible floor plans, and eye for sustainable design, for many, the Mayne-designed structure is iconic. I like how it looks like an abstracted Wi-Fi router.
But not everyone is so enthused about the San Francisco Federal Building or others like it. Yesterday, President Donald Trump issued an executive order taking aim at Brutalist and Deconstructivist federal buildings, requiring all federal architecture to be "beautiful" in the style of classical and "other traditional architecture."
The San Francisco Federal Building, along with Salt Lake City's Orrin G. Hatch United States Courthouse and Orlando's George C. Young Federal Courthouse, were called out by name as examples of "ugly and inconsistent" buildings across the country. This is how the order describes the federal buildings in Trump's ideal world:
New Federal building designs should, like America’s beloved landmark buildings, uplift and beautify public spaces, inspire the human spirit, ennoble the United States, command respect from the general public, and, as appropriate, respect the architectural heritage of a region.
Members of the nonprofit organization Architecture Lobby have rightfully pointed out that this administration's insistence on Neoclassicism—which is directly related to the construction of whiteness—is, well, racist. "The particular appeal to classical architecture often uses the nostalgic appropriation of style by fictionalizing national heritage and manufacturing an ideal subject to marginalize and other, while simultaneously claiming moral superiority," they said in a statement.
This executive order also speaks to Trump's very own childlike obsession with "greatness" no matter how gaudily done it may be. Trump's personal pantheon of architecture communicates power in the most ostentatious and ugly ways. Think of the amount of faux-looking gold on all his buildings. The Floridian opulence of his dumb Mar-a-Lago fortress. It's all too much, this approach to his presidency and architecture.
While both Brutalism and Deconstructivism have their detractors, the design practice is rooted in upending our notions of how to exist in spaces, distorting associations we may have with buildings of power. The Trump administration going so far as to mandating "beauty" in federal architecture is just further proof that whiteness is the only language our lame-duck President knows how to speak.