"An unapologetically self-promoting megalomaniac employs a collective fascination with the imperial allure of classical architecture and a talented designer to realize his dreams of imposing aestheticism and vulgar uniformity."
That was my summary of Albert Speer’s “Inside the Third Reich”, an insightful yet unreliable account of one of Hitler’s pet talents, supposedly owning his undeniable skill to some perceived sense of inherent ‘Germanism’, where architectural nuance is owed to some theoretical inheritance of German “values”, brick upon brick reflecting the superior finesse and panache of its people, mortar joining these into a grand cement monument to pan-Aryan solidarity. From this pompous, self-important and delusional hobby, it is unsurprisingly easy to segue to our more recent mascot for political polarisation: Donald Trump.
This one plays like a Stalinist iteration of The Sims
It is not the strangest transgression in thought, considering that his recent foray into architectural finger-wagging, (he easily could have been an architect, you know) is a new theatre for his fun game playing at being “President” (name change imminent - not beautiful enough). This one plays like a Stalinist iteration of The Sims, kicked off by the draft presidential bill, “Make federal buildings beautiful again”. In the Operation Barbarossa of his culture war, he posits new styles are incapable of representing America’s “national values' ', particularly those of the founding fathers.
At face value, the similarities between the emerging American republic and romanticized classical virtues may be deceptively similar. Liberty, rationality, a strong judiciary, the slaves... the list goes on. Nevertheless, the employment of neo-classicism did not diverge from contemporary trends in urbanity. Neo-classical buildings are interpolated across European streets: the National Theatre in London, fittingly so considering its renaissance focus, and The Louvre, similarly apt in its marriage of appearance with purpose and context.
Interestingly, there have already been federal statutes on architecture. In 1962, “guiding principles' ' on federal building endorsed the existing classical styles, yet in respect of the bastardly, melting pot nature of cultural currents, specifed there should be no over-arching philosophy. Instead, art should progress in its natural form and the government will reflect that. This is what separates the naturally liberal nature of architecture from authoritarian fancy, and neoclassicism as an independent discipline from the grimly homogenous direction in which it has previously been shoved.
Our beloved strongmen often wedge supposed inspirations drawn from virtues they have supposedly ‘revived’ or ‘reinvented’ over physical inspiration from an existing school. Mussolini’s Modernist Casa del Fascio, built under the enlightenment signalling brand of “rationalism” features square floors of identical rooms, which extend three-dimensionally to break every conception of structural parameters with the “cube”. The foundations of floor and wall extend outside the main front to indicate that, yes, this is a building, and not just a big Nazi jack-in-a-box. But Mussolini was consistent, and Donald’s hazy eyed reflections on architecture reflect the new, right wing side in the Trump confessed “culture war”.
Pat Buchanan, 1991 presidential candidate and “Trump before Trump” had pornography, gay marriage and other old testament pet peeves in his sight, but Trumps cosmopolitan genesis makes this too narrow to be the case. Instead, Trump leads a grieving white working class, threatened by the progressive nature of both scientific and social advancement. In this cultural clash they hate the new, but seem to be hastily pick-and-mixing elements of the old, both fictional and factual, with the general theme of conservatism, pomp and testosterone.