Posts tagged with "Donald Trump":

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What to make of the draft executive order to classicize federal architecture?

In early February, when Architectural Record broke the news that President Trump might force classicism on future federal architecture, the design industry erupted in anger. Despite the fact that the rule still hasn’t been enacted weeks later, the frustration remains for many. Jean Baker, professor and author of Building America: The Life of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, argued that Latrobe, who contributed to the design of some of America’s most important government buildings, including the White House and the United States Capitol, would be “aghast at any politicizing of his designs.” The process of designing federal structures in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the Capitol was built, was fairly informal, she said. President George Washington solicited designs for the Capitol through a competition advertised in various newspapers, and the resulting building was unfinished when the government moved there in 1800. Latrobe pushed for the Capitol to be a significant and permanent structure and worked on the north and south wings until the War of 1812 diverted funding. “Latrobe was very conscious of the connection of architecture to the political ideals of the United States,” Baker told AN. “He argued, in a famous oration that was three hours long, that architecture, along with other arts, served freedom, and in Greece and Rome had strengthened those governments and would do the same in the United States.” According to Baker, Latrobe’s vision for the Capitol was for it to be functional, rational, and understandable “without any need for expert explanation, as he believed some European buildings needed, or a connoisseur for appreciation.” Opponents of Trump’s draft order have argued that a return to neoclassical architecture would result in buildings inspired by another time that need some amount of translation for the present or elevate certain cultural traditions over others. The National Organization of Minority Architects, for one, wrote in a statement that such structures embody “cultural exclusivity” and “would signal the perceived superiority of a Eurocentric aesthetic.” The contemporary buildings cited in the draft order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” have “little aesthetic appeal” according to Trump, but have been lauded elsewhere. Both Arquitectonica’s Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. U.S. Courthouse in Miami and the Morphosis-designed San Francisco Federal Building have won national design awards. Two weeks after the story broke, former presidents of the AIA added to the organization’s earlier, immediate reaction in a letter of dissension to the White House asking Trump to reconsider the proposed mandate. They argued that dictating a uniform style of architecture, whether neoclassical or modern, sets a precedent for suboptimal design. “The investment of federal funds into public buildings demands an appropriate return on investment to the American people—the taxpayers,” the former AIA presidents wrote. “That return is not guaranteed by stipulating a singular design style; it is achieved by engaging in a rigorous process that engages the most qualified and experienced design and construction professionals. In fact, it is well-known that neoclassical design often equates to higher construction costs and extended time schedules for project completion.” The issue extends beyond neoclassical aesthetics—material choices would be affected, as well, which would influence building performance and carbon footprints. If a certain style dictates the use of copious amounts of stone, then contractors have to seek out manufacturers and quarries that can deliver the quantities needed for a federal project with such a large square footage. Baker said that Latrobe, even in his time, sought out local materials for his buildings. The breccia marble found in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, for example, was quarried along the Potomac River. “Pure neoclassicists would demand marble,” she noted, which could complicate sustainable supply chains and material sourcing decisions. Federal projects located within the U.S. wouldn’t be the only built works affected by the order—it could affect the renovation and construction of embassies around the world. Many recently announced projects, like WEISS/MANFREDI’s update to the Edward Durell Stone–designed U.S. embassy in New Delhi, would have to reflect classical European values of architecture instead of a reinvented modernist aesthetic fit for India’s climate. Sources who spoke anonymously to AN said that design-excellence advocates have been fighting for high-design federal architecture at home and abroad for years in Washington, and it’s been an ongoing battle. Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the U.S. General Services Administration oversees the construction of overseas embassies, which is in fact managed by the State Department.
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Atlantic City declares Trump Plaza a public safety hazard

Officials in Atlantic City have filed an injunction in New Jersey Superior Court in an attempt to hasten the demolition of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. The Martin Stern Jr.-design property, completed in 1984 and now owned by billionaire hedge fund manager and Donald Trump ally Carl Icahn, closed in September 2014 and has remained unoccupied since. Icahn took control of the blighted building in 2016. In a press conference held on Thursday, officials deemed the 39-story building an “imminent hazard” due to the fact that chunks of the building’s concrete and stucco facade are actively raining onto nearby streets. Some falling debris has almost reached Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk, as per the Philadelphia Inquirer. The city's court filing claims Tower Plaza poses “an actual and immediate danger to life” and needs to be demolished without delay. “A part of my vision is to have a clean city and a safe city,” Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. said in a news conference. “Right now, Trump Plaza isn’t clean or safe.” “Today we’re saying to Carl Icahn, we want this building torn down,” Small told reporters. “We are negotiating in good faith. But it changes when we have to dispatch emergency police and personnel 24 hours a day around the building.” As the Inquirer notes, Small opted to hold the conference at Boardwalk Hall in lieu of the crumbling hotel because “we didn’t feel safe enough to stand near Trump Plaza.” As the Inquirer details, fire and public safety officials recently carried out an emergency inspection in which a drone was used to pinpoint the source of the structural shedding. During the inspection, five large holes in the facade of the hotel’s tower between the 15th and 19th floors were identified as was damage to the seams of the structure caused by unchecked water damage. Further up, soffits on the penthouse level have been deteriorating and falling to the street. “These buildings need to maintained, and they need to be kept safe,”  Scott Evans, chief of the Atlantic City Fire Department, said. “The most important thing for us is public safety. We need to ensure that the owners of these buildings do not create a situation that is going to pose a threat or risk to the city, or to any pedestrians for that matter, that are within the vicinity of this building.” However, as the need for a court order demonstrates, razing this gone-to-seed former Atlantic City landmark won't be easy. Despite a longstanding desire by Atlantic City officials to demolish the Trump-branded architectural blemish, the city can’t take action and demolish Trump Plaza itself, and condemning it comes with exorbitantly high costs. Previous attempts to raze Trump Plaza in 2018 never came to fruition largely because Icahn failed to receive state funding via the Reinvestment Development Authority that would have been used to cover the cost of the demolition, a cost currently estimated to be in the ballpark of $14 million according the Inquirer. And so, demolition permit deadlines came and went much to the chagrin or local officials and residents alike. As local daily The Press of Atlantic City wrote in 2018, many believe the shuttered building to be “responsible for stifling growth and contributing to a negative perception of the city from visitors.” “My administration’s goal is to tear Trump Plaza down,” Small said at the beginning of this year. “That’s not accepted in any other city but Atlantic City. It’s an embarrassment, it’s blight on our skyline, and that’s the biggest eyesore in town.” In this week's press conference, Small explained that Icahn is now on the same page regarding the building's demolition. He said, however, that the city and Icahn have “different paths on how we get there.” “We are puzzled by the city’s actions,” Hunter Gary, president of Real Estate for Ichan Enterprises, said in a statement in response to the city seeking injunctive relief. “In fact, we have already decided to demo the building and have commenced the process including finalizing contracts. If the mayor had simply called us instead of holding a press conference, we could have updated him too.” Once upon a time, Trump Plaza, opened as Harrah's at Trump Plaza, was the Trump Organization’s flamboyant flagship Atlantic City development with 906 guest rooms, 86,000 square feet of gaming space, and regularly held wrestling matches. But following decades of legal issues and financial failures including a 1992 bankruptcy filing, Trump Plaza was “finally put out of its stained-carpet, squeaky-revolving-door, no-room-service, center-of-the-Boardwalk misery” in 2014. Another Trump property in Atlantic City, the Trump Taj Mahal, went belly-up in 2016 and reopened two years later under new ownership as the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City. In the meantime, city officials have enlisted an around-the-clock police detail to stop pedestrians from using a particularly perilous sidewalk next to Trump Plaza. The Press also reports that there are plans to erect fencing around a section of the Boardwalk in order to keep people safe from falling debris.
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NYC flood barrier project suspended by Trump administration

On January 18, President Donald Trump took to Twitter and made clear his feelings about a proposed $119 billion—later downgraded to $62 billion—proposed seawall with retractable gates that would stretch six miles across Lower New York Bay The system would shield low-lying areas of New York City and New Jersey from the same type of catastrophic flooding unleashed by the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. That storm, which wreaked havoc up and down the Mid-Atlantic coastline, resulted in roughly $19 billion in damages in New York City alone. Trump called the idea, one of five flood-blocking proposals being studied by the Army Corps of Engineers, “costly, foolish and environmentally unfriendly.” He went on to claim that the barrier “probably wouldn’t work anyway,” before going on to warn New Yorkers to “get your mops and buckets ready.” In his tweet, an obvious reaction to a New York Times story on the sea wall published the day before, he also misstated the proposed cost of the deluge-preventing defense system to be $200 billion. Just weeks later, a crucial study considering that plan, as well as the four less intensive and expensive proposals, have been abruptly and “indefinitely postponed” by the Corps. As the New York Times reports, the announcement took some of the Corps’ own officials by surprise, while “local politicians and advocates said the decision was stunning at a time when climate change is threatening New York’s future with intensifying storms.” The project was first initiated by the Corps in 2017. Per Gothamist, it was anticipated that they would release a feasibility report as soon as this summer detailing the proposals, costs and benefits, and other information. And, even if a specific long-term plan were to be hypothetically approved and green-lit for federal funding, it could take upwards of two decades to complete such a project. As the Times noted, Trump cannot personally nix ongoing projects within the Corps. Work plans for the agency are jointly decided by Corps officials, the Department of Defense, and the White House Office of Management and Budget, while funding for their projects is allocated by Congress. But considering the previous Tweet, the President’s apparent antagonism toward infrastructure projects that would benefit his hometown, and his apathy toward climate resiliency projects that require federal funding, it’s difficult not to speculate that the move was orchestrated by Trump himself. “We can only speculate, but I think the tweet gives a clue as to the reason,” Robert Freudenberg, vice president for energy and environment with the Regional Plan Association, explained to the Times. “This is a president who gets good headlines for his base out of acting against ‘blue’ states, and there’s a disturbing pattern of stalling or trying to end projects that are important to the Northeast.” “This doesn’t happen,” added Freudenberg. “This is an in-progress study.” Even the Corps official in charge of the project, which only focused on flooding from Sandy-like storm surge but not sea-level rise or stormwater runoff (to some criticism), expressed how abnormal it was for an ongoing project to be shelved and have its funding suddenly halted. “When you’re working on something, you never like to be caught in a position where you’re shut down in the middle before you even finish your mission,” said Clifford S. Jones III of the agency’s New York office. Speaking to the Times, a senior administration official dismissed any notions of a personal vendetta on Trump’s part, and claimed that the Corps’ flood defense study was, in their words, “too expensive and unfocused.” The official went on to claim that the White House “remains committed to helping communities address their flood risks.” Calling the halting of the project “reckless,” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has been critical of the project’s limited scope, told the Times that “there is no other study underway at this scale that could give federal dollars to protect our people, our businesses and our ecosystems.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York also expressed his dismay with the decision in a press statement: “The administration is being penny-wise and pound-foolish by not funding the studies that allow New Yorkers to prepare for the next superstorm. There was no reason given for these cuts—because there is no answer.”
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Is Trump holding up NYC congestion pricing and Second Avenue Subway funding?

Congestion pricing is at the traffic-alleviating heart of a $51.5 billion funding strategy developed by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to raise funds for upgrades and repairs that will help resuscitate the agency’s flailing, failing New York City Subway system. But the plan, which would provide the MTA with $15 billion in bond sales for much-needed funding for signal improvements and enhanced station accessibility, has appeared to have hit a bureaucratic snag. With the congestion pricing scheme slated to kick off in 2021 (although that date now seems a stretch), New York would be the first city in the United States to implement congestion pricing as a means of raising funds for public transportation modernization efforts. Although many particulars are still being ironed out by the state, toll-based congestion pricing would apply to vehicles entering Manhattan from points south of 60th Street during peak traffic hours. An additional fee would also be added for for-hire vehicle rides, which should ideally reduce the number of Uber and Lyfts on the road. As previously reported, Los Angeles County is also mulling a similar congestion pricing plan that would reduce traffic while underwriting mass transit projects. As announced last week in a press conference by Governor Andrew Cuomo, however, New York’s congestion pricing scheme is apparently being “held hostage” by the Trump administration, which must grant the plan approval—via the Federal Highway Administration—before the environmental reviews can begin. While not all of the roadways that would be impacted by the congestion plan are federally funded, many are, thus the need for a federally-mandated environmental review process. For example, as Streetsblog NYC points out, Canal Street is technically part of Interstate 78. To date, the federal government has offered the state no guidance with regard to environmental review processes, essentially putting the brakes on any forward movement for the time being. Cuomo has framed the delay as an act of retaliation for the state’s refusal to hand over data culled from the Department of Motor Vehicles to the Department of Homeland Security that would be used for immigration enforcement. “Will they hold congestion pricing hostage? Yes,” the New York Post quoted Cuomo as saying at the press conference. “It doesn’t happen without the federal government’s approval and right now, they’re not approving it.” Cuomo revealed in another press conference held this past Monday that $3 billion in federal grant funding for Manhattan’s Second Avenue Subway expansion has also been derailed by President Trump. Encompassing three new stations and two miles of tunnels, the first phase of the East Side’s forever-awaited Second Avenue Subway line opened in January 2017. The $6 billion second phase, which would stretch the line from East 96th street to East 125th Street with three new stations, is anticipated to be operational by 2027-2029. The project is currently in the preliminary design phases. Trump had previously expressed decidedly non-antagonistic feelings toward the Second Avenue Subway and its progress. The Trump administration has also delayed funding to rehabilitate a rapidly deteriorating Hudson River rail tunnel that took on significant damage during Superstorm Sandy. The tunnel project is part of Amtrak’s Gateway infrastructure initiative geared to improve rail travel along the Northeast Corridor. It was downgraded to “medium-low priority” status by the Federal Transit Administration earlier this month, “The federal government has been slow, obstinate and I think purposefully difficult whenever they can,” Cuomo told reporters last week in reference to the federal foot-dragging that's slowing crucial New York infrastructure undertakings. “It’s political extortion … and, I think, you see this across the board, and I’m not holding my breath for them to approve congestion pricing.” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed similarly waning confidence that congestion pricing will be implemented at the start of next year. He went as far as to suggest that the funding needed to fix his city’s ailing subways system will only come through if a Democrat takes the White House this November. “I am hoping that the professional folks and reason will prevail,” de Blasio recently explained on the most recent episode of WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “It doesn’t always happen in Washington, and if that doesn’t happen, then I am hoping for an election result that will change things in November.”
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On beauty, value, and justice in federal architecture in America

This past week, a frenzied debate has erupted in response to “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” a draft executive order that, if adopted, would effectively mandate “the classical architectural style” for U.S. federal buildings. Assembled by the National Civic Art Society, a little-known organization dedicated to the promotion of classical architecture and design, the order proposes to rewrite the US General Services Administration’s (GSA) “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture,” a three-point policy document written in 1962 by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then Special Assistant to the Secretary of Labor, to focus the architectural ambitions of the GSA. Moynihan’s first and third directives aim squarely at design, insisting that federal buildings “reflect the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the American National Government” and that careful consideration be given to the building site and the layout of adjacent streets, public spaces, and landscape. His second speaks more generally to matters of architectural style:
The development of an official style must be avoided. Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government. And not vice versa. […] The advice of distinguished architects ought to, as a rule, be sought prior to the award of important design contracts.
The crux of MFBBA’s argument is that Moynihan’s second principle precludes his first. By granting authority on matters of style to architects, it claims, the Guiding Principles supplant the preferences of the American people with “the architectural profession’s reigning orthodoxy.” This, it continues, “implicitly discouraged classical and other designs known for their beauty,” and sanctioned instead modernist, Brutalist, and Deconstructivist buildings which “have little aesthetic appeal,” citing work by Marcel Breuer, Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Morphosis, and others as examples. In so doing, the order claims, “the Federal government has largely stopped building beautiful buildings that the American people want to look at or work in.” To encourage the design of buildings that inspire “admiration” instead of “public derision,” the order proposes that “in the National Capital [sic] Region and for all Federal courthouses, the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style absent special extenuating factors necessitating another style.” While this technically leaves open the possibility of non-traditional design, MFBBA sets an extremely high bar for its approval. Brutalism, Deconstructivism, and their derivatives (specified by extremely problematic, open-ended definitions) are excluded outright. Other non-traditional buildings would be permitted to move forward only with approval from the president, who must first be provided with a detailed explanation of “whether such design is as beautiful… as alternative designs of comparable cost in a traditional architectural style.” The term beauty, or one of its derivatives, appears twelve times in MFBBA’s seven pages. Though it is not included in the document’s list of definitions, it is used throughout to signify those qualities that give pleasure to the senses and the intellect. At its core, then, this debate is about more than just architectural style. It is about publicly funded pleasure. The art critic Dave Hickey similarly locates the essence of beauty in pleasure. In his 2009 essay, “American Beauty,” he finds it primarily in the “pleasant surprises” one encounters in everyday life. Such pleasure, whether derived from monumental architecture, a clear blue sky, or a perfectly executed jump shot, often leads people—Americans in particular—to dialog. “Beautiful!” someone exclaims, moved by an arresting object or experience. Others respond, sometimes in agreement, sometimes in dissent. Chatter ensues, occasionally moving toward the consensus from which societies are built. “American beauty is inextricable from its optimal social consequence,” Hickey writes, “our membership in a happy coalition of citizens who agree on what is beautiful, valuable, and just.” In American society, beauty, value, and justice are determined similarly—through the often-contentious debates we conduct in Congress, in court, in the press, in the marketplace, at school, at home, and out in the street. Given the complexity of these collective conversations (and the difficulty of surprising oneself), we often turn to trained experts—elected representatives, lawyers, cultural critics, brokers, artists, architects, and others—to generate possibilities and look after our interests. Though it often seeks guidance in expert opinion, American society is not based on timeless values, religious doctrine, or ancient edicts. It is based on mutual agreement. With the Declaration of Independence, Americans mutually agreed to their collective right to pursue “pleasant surprises” and other forms of happiness, and to tentatively ascribe power to the government to secure that right. This is where it gets complicated. As Hickey points out, every pleasant surprise is an occasion for change, an opportunity to renegotiate our collective agreement regarding what we hold to be beautiful, valuable, and just. Such activity always threatens the stability of the status quo, which is why authoritarian societies often attempt to neutralize such threats by outlawing idiosyncrasy and mandating familiarity. MFBBA adopts exactly this authoritarian posture, though its authors undoubtedly would point to their populist invocations of “the public” and to their proposal that all GSA architectural competitions convene public panels that exclude design and construction professionals as evidence of their efforts to foster exactly the sort of open debate I am advocating. Such arguments would ring false. With their thumb firmly on the scale from the outset, MFBBA’s authors decide in advance the outcome of public deliberation on federal buildings. Their message is clear: When it comes to the most hallowed spaces of our democracy, the American debate on beauty—and by extension, on value and justice – is settled. The authors of “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” thus work entirely on the side of entrenched authority, and rightly recognize the federal buildings of Breuer, Morphosis, Scogin, Elam, and others as subtly subversive. These works signal that the brilliance of American democracy issues from its accommodation of periodic reinvention, from our collective agreement that what we held to be beautiful, valuable, and just yesterday may not align with what we will hold to be so tomorrow. This is not to say that progressive architecture best represents our union, or that classically derived designs can no longer embody American values. It is merely to recognize, as Daniel Moynihan did, that we would do well to continue to draw on “the finest contemporary American architectural thought” to help us determine the best way forward, and to remember that the “dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability” of the American government obtains from the right of its citizens to perpetually renegotiate the terms by which we are governed, to reimagine the values we wish to uphold, and to freely pursue the subversive pleasures of beauty. Todd Gannon is the Robert S. Livesey Professor and head of the architecture section at The Ohio State University’s Knowlton School.
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Critics speak out over the draft federal architecture mandate

Everyone from critics to commentators to professional organizations came out swinging this week in reaction to President Trumps draft executive order to impose a neoclassical style (now publicly available) on all future federal architecture. AN reported yesterday that the American Institute of Architects (AIA) released a statement strongly opposing a uniform style, and according to Contract, the organization had prior knowledge of the draft and expressed concerns over it during a mid-January meeting with James Sherk, a top policy aid in the White House In a statement published today by Contract, the AIA issued a letter to Trump after news broke about the leak, asking the president to “ensure that this order is not finalized or executed.” At the time of the aforementioned meeting, the AIA said it believed the draft was not moving forward. “We were shocked and disappointed to hear that it is still in circulation,” the organization wrote in the letter.  The AIA isn’t the only top-level advocacy group in the industry to speak up so far, but it is one of the main avenues for those interested to take action against the draft order, outside of cold-contacting the White House Below, AN broke down highlights from the AIA’s letter to Trump, alongside responses from other major players in the industry:  American Institute of Architects  “The draft we have seen also attempts to define ‘classical architectural style’ to mean architectural features derived from classical Greek and Roman architecture with some allowances for ‘traditional architectural style,’" wrote the AIA in its letter. "Given that the specific type of architecture preferred in the order can increase the cost of a project (to up to three times as much), we would hope the GSA, Congress and others would take pause. Since these costs would have to be borne by U.S. taxpayers, this is not an inconsequential concern… “President Trump, this draft order is antithetical to giving the ‘people’ a voice and would set an extremely harmful precedent. It thumbs its nose at societal needs, even those of your own legacy as a builder and promoter of contemporary architecture. Our society should celebrate the differences that develop across space and time.” The Architecture Lobby  (T-A-L) “Seizing on architectural styles is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes,” wrote The Architecture Lobby in a statement. “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. The Lobby wants to draw attention to the larger ideological implications this implies, implications that go beyond a conservative approach to style or limitations to freedom of expression. Neoclassicism in the US is directly related with the construction of whiteness. It was whiteness that was sought after in the many plantations houses that chose the style, justifying it as an emulation of ancient Greek ‘culture’ to separate themselves from the Indigenous peoples whose land was stolen ad the enslaved African people forced to build and work in them. Thomas Jefferson’s excitement with the work of the Beaux-Arts school in Paris was motivated by a desire to make America ‘European,’ and white... “Privileging historicist architecture is a common tool of the capitalist class in the United States as well. This tactic is used in planning codes and by homeowners associations to favor traditional aesthetics under the guise of human-centric design, but whose true purpose is to continue the legacy of red-lining by preventing the densification and diversification of neighborhoods. The ultimate goal is to inflate property values and maintain the racial and class segregation of our cities, to create an environment fo capital to continue the destruction of communities through gentrification.  The ‘Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again’ executive order is a reformulation of these local aesthetic strictures at a national level and a blatant attempt to leverage aesthetics in the service of white supremacy.” National Trust for Historic Preservation While the National Trust values—and protects—traditional and classical buildings throughout the country, to censor and stifle the full record of American architecture by requiring federal buildings to be designed, and even altered, to comply with a narrow list of styles determined by the federal government is inconsistent with the values of historic preservation,” wrote the National Trust in a statement. “The draft order would put at risk federal buildings across the country that represent our full American story, and would have a chilling effect on new design, including the design of federal projects in historic districts…We strongly oppose any effort to impose a narrow set of styles for future federal projects based on the architectural tastes of a few individuals that will diminish, now and for the future, our rich legacy of federal architecture.” Vishaan Chakrabarti, Founder of PAU Studio “Like the fundamentalists who desecrated Bamiyan and Palmyra, it is only the most insecure, arrogant and petty of leaders who attempt to remake the world in the delusions of their dominant image,” Chakrabarti said in a statement provided to AN. “Once again the Trump administration is making their hatred of our diversity clear, a hatred we must fight to defend the pluralist idea of America that most of us hold dear. Make no mistake, this is artistic censorship, and censorship is yet another step towards the fascism that clouds our land.” National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) “Diverse cultural influences on the creative expression of our collective built environment is vital to the strength of our society and paramount to our freedom as Americans,” wrote NOMA. “Given the historical significance of NOMA, rooted in the African-American experience, we are especially cognizant of the notion that for many of our members, such buildings in certain contexts stand as symbols and painful reminders of centuries of oppression and the harsh realities of racism. As architects, we are called to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. We have a duty to advocate for design that reflects the values of the people we serve: ALL of the people. The proposed Executive Order, if enacted, would signal the perceived superiority of a Eurocentric aesthetic. This notion is completely unacceptable and counterproductive to the kind of society that fosters justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Freedom of architectural expression is a right that should be upheld at the highest levels of government.”  The Architectural League of New York The Architectural League fundamentally opposes the imposition of a “preferred” style—whether classical or any other—by diktat as the enforced representation of the American people and their institutions,” wrote Paul Lewis, president of The Architectural League NY, and Rosalie Genevro, executive director. “Such a policy would be anathema to the idea of a free, diverse, and inclusive society. “Architecture that represents the American people must be created in response to specific sites and specific needs, responsive to local communities and conditions, drawing on the skills of the country’s most talented architects.” American Society of Landscape Architects  “The American Society of Landscape Architects has profound concerns about a proposed executive order that would impose uniform style mandates on federal building projects,” said Wendy Miller, president of ASLA. “Our nation’s design professionals are admired around the world for their creativity, innovation, and diversity of thought. Designers of the built environment should not be confined by arbitrary constraints that would limit federal building projects to a single style.  ASLA believes that the public interest is best served by a collaborative place-based process that continues to produce federal projects that reflect the unique needs and values of each community and its citizens.” Docomomo US “The draft executive order which states, “the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style’ would roll back Federal architectural policy by nearly sixty years and set a dangerous precedent for how we value our nation’s architectural diversity and history," said Todd Grover, the vice-president of advocacy, at Docomomo US. “We, along with our colleagues at the American Institute of Architects (AIA), oppose this change in policy to promote any style of architecture over another for federal buildings across the country. This decision could create long-standing issues with new and also existing facilities that have achieved significance since the 1960s.”
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Trump administration begins blasting through an Arizona National Monument to erect border wall

With just under nine months until the United States presidential election, the Trump administration is pushing ahead with last-ditch efforts to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and it seems not even a National Monument can stand in its way. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contractors have recently been instructed to blast through Monument Hill in the southernmost section of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a 500-square-mile park on the southern Arizona border that had been designated a United States National Monument and a UNESCO biosphere reserve, to erect another portion of the barrier. Indigenous and environmental activists have actively protested on the site since November of last year, informing the administration that the site is not only a valuable ecological site, but also one of spiritual and cultural importance to the Tohono O'odham Nation, a Native American people of the Sonoran Desert. Despite the fact that large swaths of the park have yet to be documented for uncharted ancient archaeological sites and animal habitats, demolition across the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument will continue unabated throughout the next month. Raúl Grijalva, the U.S. Representative for Arizona's 3rd congressional district, has stated that while the government has hired an environmental monitor, he believes little attention will be paid to preserving sites sacred to the Tohono O'odham Nation. “How would we feel,” Grijalva argued in a video posted to Twitter, “if a foreign nation came into the United States and began to dig up Arlington National Cemetery? Or if they began to desecrate cemeteries across the country?” He then committed to visiting with members of the O’odham Nation and others invested in the site to assess the damage that has already taken place. The DHS has already uprooted several saguaro cacti to make way for a makeshift roadway to be used for construction vehicles and drained water from a desert aquifer below the terrain to mix the concrete necessary for the 30-foot-tall barrier planned for the site. If the wall is completed, its floodlights and divisive siting will interrupt the migration of several native animal species.
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AIA rejects Trump’s draft order for uniform federal architecture style

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) issued a response yesterday to the potential executive order that could force all future federal buildings to be designed in the neoclassical style.  On Twitter, the organization rejected the Trump administration’s proposal, stating:
“The AIA strongly opposes uniform style mandates for federal #architecture. Architecture should be designed for the specific communities that it serves, reflecting our rich nation’s diverse places, thought, culture, and climates. Architects are committed to honoring our past as well as reflecting our future progress, protecting the freedom of thought and expression that are essential to democracy.” 
Yesterday, Architectural Record published news that it had access to a draft of the White House order which implied that the President wanted the Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture to be rewritten in favor of creating a singular style. Neoclassicism, the design style that the founding fathers chose for the U.S. Capitol, would become the “preferred and default style” under this new rule and would change the core value of the General Service Administration’s Design Excellence Program Rather than pre-qualified architects receiving the chance to design uniquely-contemporary federal structures for the cities they serve, all future government buildings would instead be reminiscent of the monumental, white construction that has defined Washington, D.C., since its inception, as well as the structures built-in ancient Rome and Greece, and more recently, in Hitler’s Third Reich. Tradition is beautiful, the order argued; modernism (especially Brutalism and Deconstructivism) is ugly. Case in point: the draft order was titled “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.” Numerous classicism-loving groups feel the same way. On Twitter, several accounts called out the AIA for showing its “true colors,” accusing the organization of being opposed to “beauty and tradition.” Fast Company spoke to Steven Heller, co-chair of the MFA design program at the School of Visual Arts, who clarified that it’s not uncommon for governments to impose a preferred design style as a way to indicate authority. Think the projects built during the Works Progress Administration under FDR.  Still, Heller said this move by the White House signals a larger issue: “When one design style is preferred over another, that may be construed as an aesthetic preference,” he told Fast Company. “But when it is linked to a presidential act of decree, especially a president that exhibits authoritarian tendencies, then there is reason for alarm. We tend to ignore the nuances of power, like graphics and architecture styles, until it’s too late.”  
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[Updated] Potential executive order might force neoclassical style on federal buildings

Update 2/6/20: The Chicago Sun-Times published the full draft executive order yesterday. Read the 8-page document here Among the top news headlines in the country today, the Trump administration apparently hates contemporary architecture.  Architectural Record has reportedly obtained a draft executive order titled, “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” in which the White House will dictate that all future government structures be designed in the neoclassical style. It would force the General Service Administration (GSA) to rewrite the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture, which it has used as the basis of its Design Excellence Program since 1962, while requiring all new and upgraded federal buildings to be designed in the antiquated “preferred and default style.”  Originally written by former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the principals distinctly noted that when it comes to federal architecture, “an official style must be avoided” and that any new structures must reflect the time period in which they are designed. “Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government, and not vice versa,” Moynihan wrote at the time. Throughout the last six decades, high-profile architects have relished the opportunity to make their stamp on the U.S. government. To Moynihan, the collaboration between architecture, the fine arts, and public officials was to be viewed as part of upholding democracy.  But it appears that Trump wants to say goodbye to designing for democracy and more specifically, to Brutalism and Deconstructivism, according to the draft. While it’s no secret that the President dislikes Brutalism—he’s previously decried that the FBI’s downtown Washington, D.C., headquarters should be remodeled or demolished. The FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover Building, designed by Charles F. Murphy and Associates, sits directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Trump International Hotel, a historic, romanesque revival building. Many hotels in the Trump chain feature glass and steel, similar to those found in New York and Chicago.  Several high-design federal buildings throughout various U.S. cities, according to the draft order, have “little aesthetic appeal,” Record noted, and don’t embody the country’s “self-governing ideals.” Among those citied were San Francisco’s U.S. Federal Building by Morphosis and Miami’s Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. U.S. Courthouse by Arquitectonica. Both were built in 2007 and stand boxy and tall, featuring modern materials such as metal rainscreens on the former and a glass curtain wall on the latter.  Trump’s turn to classicism, though semi-surprising, shouldn’t completely catch architects off guard, however. Back in 2018, AN reported that he had appointed a staunch classicist to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (and another one as late as last December) in favor of securing approval on future neoclassical projects. The draft order documents that President Trump aims to create a Committee for the Re-Beautification of Federal Architecture as well, which is reminiscent of the late Sir Roger Scruton’s push to build more beautiful homes and communities throughout the United Kingdom in a self-avowed anti-modernist fashion.  The news comes just one week after the GSA’s Chief Architect and Director of Design Excellence, David Insinga, reportedly resigned from his post. He had served largely under the Trump administration since December 2016 and made it clear from the start that he sought to improve sustainability and reduce energy usage across federal buildings. So far, Insinga has not commented on his departure.
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Cultural sites under attack in the age of unaccountability

In a manner befitting of the current American presidency, Donald Trump’s casual tweet “....we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!” aired some forty-eight hours ago. In fact, the president’s threat does not merit further comment beyond what has been articulated widely in the press: to destroy cultural sites would be an illegal act, and moreover a war crime. Trump’s threat has already been retracted by the Pentagon in what is, by now, a common pattern of contradictory communications so endemic of this administration. The fifty-two target sites in Iran are claimed to be symbolically linked to the fifty-two American citizens that Iran held hostage in 1979, as if those individuals asked for retribution after forty years. For those of us who remember the hostage crisis and the 444 days of suffering it created, the trauma was real and the political implications have remained intact for over forty years. But for those who remember a generation prior, we are reminded of the infamous 1953 American intervention in Iran that sowed the seeds of systematic mistrust, when a U.S. administration participated in a coup that overthrew a democratically elected Mossadegh to reinstate the Shah’s dictatorship that would guarantee American access to oil. Indeed, the Iranian Revolution may have crested in 1979, but its roots can be linked to an earlier upheaval where the American involvement cannot be understated. As the White House scrambles to justify recent actions, we are wise to recall that the direct U.S. involvement and complicity in the creation and destruction of nations is not restricted to the Iranian experience. Iraq is now reliving its own trauma, the result of rogue American judgment and the coercion of a prior U.S. administration, whose facts were not only flawed but intentions clearly motivated by an a priori decision to occupy a foreign land without any appeal to the truth. The more significant question that underlies this premise is to what degree the United States can be held accountable in the International Court of Justice in the Hague for its crimes. The United States is not a State Party to the Rome Statute which founded the International Criminal Court. By refusing to participate, the U.S. also sees itself as exempt from the international system that attempts to bring to justice the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. Insofar as the destruction of cultural sites continues to fall under these protective measures of the World Court, then the aim of this piece is also to demonstrate a broader link between cultural heritage, foreign policy, and a system of governance on which we can rely for checks and balances, both national and international. Though not visible at first sight, the environmental policies that drive foreign affairs is also at the center of this narrative, making important links between the American way of life and its reliance of fossil fuels, the very factor that is coming to challenge how we view the environment, whether in cultural or ecological terms. A rudimentary scan through the various heritage sites in Iran unearths a wide variety of cultural significance, protected by both World and National Heritage registers, identifying the very diversity of this region’s history. Indeed, even if the current regime’s theocracy has only enjoyed about forty years of leadership, Iran is composed of many people, tribes, and religions including Zoroastrians, Christians, Jewish, Bahai, and of course Muslims, both Sunni and Shiite. The country’s cities are known for the many contributions they have made to art, science, and architecture, as made apparent through works of infrastructure, urbanism, landscape, architecture, sustainability, and building technologies. The “Qanat” of Gonabad is estimated to be 2700 years old and an early invention of an underground aqueduct, an infrastructural system designed for arid climates –allowing provisions for agriculture, bathing, drinking water, and human survival. In turn, the urban promenade that binds Naqshe Jahan Square, the Bazaar, and the Si-o-se-pol Bridge on the Zayandeh Rud in Isfahan forms one of the most significant examples of urban design known to the discipline. The housing fabric of Kashan and their contained landscapes, “Hayats” and “Baghs”, are the basis for some of the early doctrines of landscape architecture. The wind-catching “Badgir” towers of the Yazd houses are some of the earliest examples of sustainable cooling strategies of this region’s architecture. Of course, beyond public monuments like the well-known Shah and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosques, there are many other classic icons, like the Soltanieh Mosque, whose double-shell dome is one of the most innovative engineering feats of its time, built some one hundred years prior to Brunelleschi’s in Florence. Some of the earlier passages of the region’s heritage go back to Antiquities, and Pasargad, Persepolis, and the cube of Zoroaster take us back to a time when Persia’s international relations formed a completely different dynamic with Greece. Of that era, the Cyrus Cylinder, dating back to the 6th century B.C. remains maybe one of the earliest artifacts to document the idea of a unified state under higher governance with a direct appeal to human rights as part of its contribution to humanity. Thus, while examining the current political predicaments of our moment, it is important to look at this culture’s history, with over 3000 years of documented heritage, to establish how the diversity of its people come to contribute to the legacy of world culture, and indeed, part of its living history. While few will challenge American generosity in the Second World War and its seminal role in building an alliance that addressed war crimes that defined the 20th Century, the White House’s self-entitlement today is a means to escape the very standards of law and democracy that stoke our national pride and the civil values foundational to American society. Ironically, this sense of entitlement is also foundational to what has allowed the Trump administration to relieve itself of accountability for other questionable actions over the past three years—a factor that prior generations of American leaders could neither have calculated nor fathomed. Sadly, this administration’s hubris is now part of this nation’s ethos; reversing it will be a task to reckon with in the coming years, if not decades, and it will fall on the collective shoulders of the entire nation to address. As we ponder the American omnipresence in the Middle East, Australia burns with a vengeance, a disaster seemingly unrelated to Iran in both cause and effect. And while it burns, the country’s Prime Minister returns from a family vacation in Hawaii, only after being compelled by mounting political pressure, too little too late. With all the scientific evidence behind the sources of global warming and its impact on climate change, Prime Minister Morrison remains unswerving in his commitment to the investments of fossil fuels, coal and the many policies his party holds dear in its commitment to profit. In this sense, Morrison follows a path no different than that of his American cohorts, whose military presence in Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, among other places in the Middle East has defined American foreign policy for decades. Beyond the social, economic, and cultural upheaval, industry-first policies have produced the injustice of climate inequity, the very phenomenon that stands to compromise not so much humanity (although it will) but the ecosystems, flora, and fauna that do not have the legal instruments to protect themselves. Thus, the American immunity to the World Court is no small issue, because the scale of its ramifications can only be measured in relation to global forces, not merely national ones. It will only be a matter of time when the balance of world economies in Asia take a turn towards other super-powers whose might will define America’s position in the future world order. However, the imposition of their reign may not be paired with the promise of democracy, equity, or a civil society; it is at that junction when we, as Americans, will regret to have abandoned the very values for which we would want to be known today and for history to have recorded for the future. By absolving ourselves of international responsibilities in the World Court today, the US guarantees precedence for others to do the same in the future. Moreover, the current U.S. administration’s abandonment of collaborative dialogue with the United Nations, UNESCO, The Paris Accord and other world bodies only exacerbates the possibilities of other rogue states, whose strategic interests in the future might be to establish their primacy over the greater good of a global community. Trump’s disregard for democratic institutions, collective processes, and legal frameworks is only radicalized by his penchant to isolate individuals or smaller interest groups as a basis for assault. His current bombast on Iran is no different from what we have witnessed him unleash on African Americans, women, Mexican immigrants, the LBGTQ community, and many others whose diverse backgrounds, belief systems and ways of life differ from his own. Within this context, the destruction of cultural heritage sites can only be interpreted as a targeted attack on the very significance of cultural diversity, and the role that monuments play in the representation of a people. I am reminded of the vacuous niches that once held the monuments of Bamiyan. Magnificent Buddhas were destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban in an act of brutality, using cultural artifacts as pawns to eviscerate an ‘other’ culture than that of their own. Among other things, the Rome Statute was put in place precisely to protect from such eventualities. Trump’s prejudicial pattern of destruction is perhaps even more sinister because it is inflicted without pause. Some have misperceived Trump’s thuggish mockery of Greta Thunberg—an enlightened embodiment of the next generation—as an assault on an individual. Indeed, it was, but it was also a concurrent assault on the collective: on civil society, on a cultural heritage, on critical discourse, and in the age of Thunberg, on the global environment. Within this context, it is virtually implausible to make a case for the protection of cultural heritage without reinforcing the very foundations on which they rely: A global environment that is sustainable, and a faith in governance and policies of stewardship that can uphold it. The individual and the collective take on a different resonance in the context of Trump as a person and the system of governance that supports him. It is completely understandable that an individual may not be able to comprehend the basic tenets of fairness, decency or democracy; less digestible is witnessing an entire political party that shuts its eyes to a pattern of behavior that has demonstrated itself to be no accident. There may be no larger strategy to this president’s actions, but there is nothing unpremeditated: Trump behaves the way he does by design. More alarmingly, an entire Republican party behind him, composed of hundreds of individual leaders, support his illegal actions, whether in enunciated defense or silence. Without a restoration of democracy, in the way in which this country’s founders had imagined, it is hard to conceive how its politicians can advance collective agendas that transcend the terms of party lines, and moreover world politics, whose relevance to the United States should be heeded. The Iranian Revolution occurred in 1979, and its current regime is well-aware of its statute of limitations; with a population of 81 million people –that is, 43 million more than the time of the revolution—the Iranian government understands that its youthful majority can only thrive with a completely different interaction with the international sphere. Despite its acrimony with the West, the achievements of the nuclear deal set in place with the former U.S. administration demonstrated wisdom from both the East and the West. Gain can only come from good communication, collaboration and an appeal to an expanded discursive field. Here, I would argue, the nuclear deal (JCPOA) was not actually the only target, but the means to develop a discussion that could be temporally transported to future administrations: effectively to build better collaborations over time. Ironically, the Mullahs clearly understood the impending dangers of obsolescence; in order to survive, they could no longer isolate themselves from the world. The current isolationist doctrine of the United States has not only alienated its conventional adversaries; recklessly, but it has also distanced itself from the very allies that hold their connection to America so dear. For America to remain relevant to these audiences, the first step will be to recognize the all-important inter-relationship between global phenomena that sees no borders. Whether considering climate change, economic equity, fair trade policies, or the mutual respect of other’s heritage, an integrated view of world interests might be the only way for securing American priorities in a meaningful way. The monuments that populate seemingly remote regions of the world are not the ‘other’ of America; they are its foundation, its source, and its reference, and once we recognize America’s diversity again, we can also re-enter the global dialogue. An understanding of shared governance may also be the only path towards a strategic plan for survival: there is no America once the global sphere is compromised beyond repair. The disengagement of these relationships can only help to obscure the many causalities that have given rise to the dire state of affairs today. Nader Tehrani is founding principal of NADAAA, a practice dedicated to the advancement of design innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, and an intensive dialogue with the construction industry. Tehrani is also Dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union.
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Stephen Ross steps down from The Shed's board amid Trump criticism

After a controversy over his fundraising for Donald Trump, Stephen M. Ross, the real estate billionaire of Hudson Yards infamy, has stepped down from The Shed’s board of directors. Hyperallergic reported last week that The Shed, a contemporary arts center which opened this past April in Hudson Yards, confirmed Ross's departure “to focus on his other philanthropic activities.” The development mogul, whose organization, The Related Companies, is associated with the luxury fitness brands SoulCycle and Equinox as well as the Momofuku and Bluestone Lane franchises, has been at the center of protests after it was unveiled in August that he was planning to host a fundraiser for Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. Ross, a longtime Republican donor, defended his track record as “an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education, and environmental sustainability.” As previously reported, in addition to facing boycott threats, several high-profile designers backed out of shows to be hosted at The Shed amid the controversy and artists staged on-site protests of Ross's history as a donor.  The Shed itself has also faced its fair share criticism. It recently announced its 2020 line-up featuring a diverse group of voices such as Claudia Rankine and British playwright Arinzé Kene. In the wake of Ross's departure, a spokesperson for the art space told Hyperallergic they were “grateful for his service and his important role in helping found The Shed.”
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Will this airport engineer be the next Architect of the Capitol?

On Monday, President Trump announced J. Brett Blanton as his nomination for the Architect of the Capitol (AOC).  Blanton is currently the deputy vice president for engineering at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority where he leads the planning, design, construction, and code enforcement for all properties controlled by the Airports Authority. While in the United States Navy he also oversaw “some of the largest infrastructure projects undertaken by the Department of the Navy,” according to the Whitehouse’s website All that said, Blanton is a licensed engineer (in the state of Georgia) but is not a licensed or practicing architect. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from the United States Naval Academy, followed by a Master of Science in Ocean Engineering from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.  If confirmed by the United States Senate, Blanton will serve a 10-year term and will be put in charge of maintaining the 18.4 million square foot Capitol complex, which includes Washington, D.C., landmarks such as the Library of Congress, U.S. Supreme Court building and Senate and House office buildings.  The previous AOC, Stephen T. Ayers, served from 2010 through November 2018 and oversaw the restoration of the U.S. Capitol Dome and the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial. He also launched the renewal of the Cannon House Office Building, a monumental, five-phase project that Blanton would take over during his term. Ayers completed his Bachelor of Science in Architecture at the University of Maryland and received his Master of Science in Systems Management from the University of Southern California, as well as an honorary Doctor of Public Design from the Boston Architectural College in recognition of his work in historic preservation.  According to Engineering News-Record, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee will have a scheduled confirmation hearing for Blanton on December 12.