Making Buildings Beautiful Again

There is no art form, whether it be painting, music, architecture or any other, that modernity with its inherent rejection of the past hasn’t made uglier, less enriching, less uplifting, than what used to exist. Abstraction did it to painting, atonality did it to music, the dictum that form follows function did it to architecture.

To be sure, throughout history art altered from era to era, but it was less a matter of change than organic development: polyphony from chant, perspective added to two-dimensional renderings of depicted objects, the dome from the arch. There was never rupture, never the outright rejection of the past wrought by modernity replacing beauty with ugliness.

A particular art form may be more important than any other in the life of a particular individual. (I wouldn’t want to be without music on my desert island.) There are also benighted individuals for whom art has little importance. They never visit a gallery or museum to look at paintings, never read or recite poetry, never stop doing all else in order to concentrate on listening to a piece of music. If religion has a role in their life, they are oblivious to how their sense of it would be enhanced by contemplation of great art, of beauty as a portal to the divine. How sad. Yet no one, not even these individuals, is unaffected by the most public of all the arts, architecture, precisely because it is public. It is inescapable whether we live in a city, a suburb, a coastal fishing village or alone in the woods (would you rather trudge through the snow toward a trailer or a weather-proofed log cabin?).

It is an article published in the February 4 issue of Architectural Record, an online professional journal, that occasions the remarks I’m offering here. The article became the source of commentaries in the New York Times and Washington Post. Both papers being rabidly anti-Trump, they took the news reported by the article as additional proof of the President’s unfitness for office. Ordinary persons hearing it, and thinking of something like the forbidding brutalist bulk of Boston’s City Hall or government-built public housing everywhere, may rejoice.

What was the news? According to the article, the White House is circulating to relevant agencies the draft of an Executive Order directing federal building to be designed and built in classical style. Entitled “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” the draft stipulates that the “classical architectural style should be the preferred and default style,” which is to say the style (in the language of the document) of “democratic Greece” and “republican Rome.” (Think of the White House, the Treasury Building next door to it, and the Capitol as examples.)

Currently, the design of federal buildings is according to “Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture” issued in 1962. These “guiding principles” account for so many buildings designed in brutalist and deconstructionist styles. (Think of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, F.B.I. headquarters, on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. It could be the setting for Winston’s workplace in a film version of Orwell’s 1984.)

The article in Architectural Record reported that the White House wasn’t responding to questions about the Executive Order. Never mind. As far as the New York Times and Washington Post are concerned, Donald Trump is about to stick Corinthian columns on I.M. Pei’s East Building of the National Gallery of Art. As far as lovers of beauty are concerned, if he actually signs the reported Executive Order it might well be considered an additional reason why Americans who are pro-life and anti-war will vote for him in November.

That every one of the Democrats seeking their party’s nomination is pro-abortion brings me to a bit of news I’m reading even as I write. Like the uglification by modern architecture of our cityscapes, it’s a stellar example of the kind of insanity to which applied liberalism leads. The news concerns a new book, The Ahuman Manifesto, by Cambridge University Professor Patricia MacCormack. According to her, the only way to save the planet is to “gradually phase out reproduction.” That is, the human race must become extinct.

The reason this is necessary is explained by MacCormack in an interview. “The basic premise of the book is that we’re in the age of the Anthropocene, humanity has caused more problems and one of them is creating the hierarchical world where white, male, heterosexual and able-bodied people are succeeding.”

MacCormack states that she is inspired by her studies in “feminism and queer theory.” No surprise there.

As loony as she is, she is sufficiently clear-headed to understand that her vision of an environment no longer polluted by the presence of human beings requires for its realization that religion must be “completely dismantled.”

We can be confident that before that happens, the good God, using right-thinking men as His instrument, will see to the dismantling of universities that would have on faculty the likes of Patricia MacCormack, of whom there are plenty in the U.S. as well as U.K. How about an Executive Order “Making Colleges Worth Attending Again”?