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Arts & Culture

Trump Orders Art Deco One Of The Only Acceptable Federal Design Styles. Architects Are Not Happy

Al Diaz
Miami Herald Staff

The American Institute of Architects released a statement saying that it “unequivocally opposes” the order, and stated that it hopes President-elect Joe Biden will reverse it.

This post was updated Tuesday, Jan. 5.

An executive order issued by President Trump this month limited the kinds of architectural styles for federal developments to a small list of options. Moving forward, the only designs for federal developments, according to the order, are Neoclassical, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Beaux-Arts, and lastly: Art Deco.

More than any other part of the nation, South Florida is known for the pastel colors and soft curves of Art Deco design. The aesthetic has become synonymous with the way that South Florida — especially Miami Beach — has been marketed to tourists, selling the grandeur of the 1920s, '30s and '40s.

But many architects, including Art Deco enthusiasts, are not happy with Trump's executive order.

“I don't think that governments have mandated architectural style since as far as I know, Mussolini and the fascist architecture of Italy,” said Daniel Ciraldo, the executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League. “Or there are other examples around the world where, you know, semi-dictator-like countries are requiring a certain type of architecture.”

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Within the United States, the Miami Design Preservation League is the oldest group dedicated to preserving Art Deco design, said Ciraldo. Yet even as an aficionado, he is troubled by the centralized, top-down approach that would boost Art Deco and other classical styles potentially at the expense of others.

"They are telling people who would build federal buildings that there is now a menu of styles from which to choose,” he said.

He fears that limitation could limit creativity and stunt the growth of newly-emerging design styles.

Ciraldo said the push from President Trump, who is a developer by trade, seems to be built on “a sort of nostalgia” for classical buildings.

The executive order itself blasts deconstructionist, modernist and brutalist designs that have been constructed by the federal government as creating a “discordant mixture” of designs across the nation.

The order cites federal developments that have stirred controversy for their designs, like the Orrin G. Hatch United States Courthouse in Salt Lake City, and the George C. Young Federal Courthouse in Orlando.

“The Federal Government has largely stopped building beautiful buildings,” reads the order. “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. They should also be visibly identifiable as civic buildings and should be selected with input from the local community.”

Deviating from the styles listed by the order would only be allowed in rare circumstances, and would have to get pre-clearance directly from the White House to do so, the order said.

The American Institute of Architects released a statement saying that it “unequivocally opposes” the order and stated that it hopes President-elect Joe Biden will reverse it.

“Communities should have the right and responsibility to decide for themselves what architectural design best fits their needs, and we look forward to working with President-elect Biden to ensure that,” said Robert Ivy, the executive vice president of the AIA.

A casual observer might think that it would be exciting for an Art Deco enthusiast to back the measure, since it could mean new buildings being constructed in the style.

And while that does seem nice on the surface, Ciraldo of the Miami Design Preservation League said that, at its core, the Art Deco style that has become analogous to South Florida is rooted in the past.

“There are those who believe that new Art Deco should be encouraged, and then there are those of us who believe that we need to make sure that Art Deco was a period in time, a style that happened during mostly the '30s to the late '40s and that that period is over,” he said. "You sometimes see unfortunate examples of where people to try to build New Art Deco or a New Mediteranean or New Classical. And oftentimes [those buildings] just don't have those proportions and the magic of the original design. So there's that authenticity, I believe, that would be hampered if we were to encourage new Art Deco.

This post was updated to correct Daniel Ciraldo's title. He's the executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League, not the president.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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