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The Case For Trumpitecture

September 3, 2015


does architecture suffer from having its own private server?

My favorite description of Donald Trump was made in the previous century: long gone Spy Magazine dubbed Trump a “Short Fingered Vulgarian”- capturing a crass, shallow bluster machine in full un-ironic self-caricaturization.

For reasons unknown by any “expert” he decided to run for president. He has clearly weathered a slew of otherwise suicidal slurs and slip: a war hero mocked, female biology held up as a flaw, and endless school-yard insults of competitors for the nomination. The blissful rejection of his obvious “incorrectness” by those polled on every level has broken laws written by the political law makers.

But more than the political class, the Cultural Law & Order Elite of national press, institutional mouthpieces and academic overlords of thinking were first laughing hysterically at the immediate flame out of Trump in the bright light of their rule book, then outraged at his continued relevance, now they are scared he may make an uncontrollable, incorrect tone necessary for election (or at least nomination).

But with each tone deaf bloviation Trump has become more popular, actually Most Popular. Serial “tut-tut”‘s, choruses of righteous indignation and knowing predictions of ultimate failure are now passing into awe.

There are eloquent clarifications of his swaggering FU of the the established rut-following path of political process, expression and protocol.

David Brooks simply nailed it: he noted that political views are not what Trump is espousing: Trump is simply finding another vehicle for ego projection: it was lacquered brass in the 1980’s, Marla Maples in the ’90’s, a reality TV show in the 21st century and now a run for president.

The appeal is not what Trump is saying: its how he says it – and his raw megalomania is a 180 degree turn from flaked/formed/processed polyester pandering of virtually every other candidate. But One.

Bernie Sanders is factually a Socialist. He is not even a Democrat in the Senate. While he might have a perspective the vast majority of Americans might find absurdly out-of-touch, he truly believes his message, says it without qualification, and like Trump really does not care what his candidacy means to the political class.

Architecture has a Political Class. It, like our entire political machine has evolved rules of order, expression and judgment. The aesthetically “incorrect” are as heretical as gay marriage was to fundamentalist Christians a generation ago.

Schools of architecture, the architectural press, the AIA follow “leaders” they decide to project. For a very brief moment I was one of those: a Record House, a P/A Young Architect designation, teaching at Yale (well, undergrad) and winning AIA awards: the trifecta – press, academia, and AIA.

I did nothing to change my ideas, buildings or words: but a temporary blip in “correctness” widened its lens to include people like me in the promoted elite. That blip ended. If my buildings and words were OK then, I actually know they are objectively better now. But I am fringe at best in their eyes.

Republicans had Mayor Lindsay and Governor Rockefeller. Democrats had Senator Moynihan and every southern Senator before Reagan. There was a broad bandwidth of ideology in each party. No more. Purity of belief, policy and pander trumps (intentionally used) broader perspectives. Kinda like architecture.

Despite my awkward hair, I am no Donald Trump.

But architecture in its monolithic glacial slide down a predictable path has rendered its press denuded of importance to any but the rapt believers, AIA membership is dwindling and the academy is a distinct class from those who build buildings. Recent articles in Forbes, Salon and the New York Times state the obvious: architecture as a public presence of celebrated commissions speaks mostly to itself.

Like the political class.

The same ego engorgement that feeds Trump, the same rarified political purity of Bernie Sanders is also present in the disconnect between aesthetes and the rest of society. Hubris and zealotry are both appealing and sustaining for fellow believers, but off-putting to the rest of us, but when the buildings designed by the 1% seem aggressively ignorant of utility or context non-believers are not amused.

But even the silliest High Modern sculptures are not evil, corrupt or even culturally erosive – (just like all the other politically correct candidates for president) – because pandering to those who would anoint you almost precludes evil intent. What is making a Vulgarian, a neurosurgeon and a Socialist so appealing is they are not speaking to the funders, the press, the academics or the political class.

They are just speaking what makes perfect sense to them: even though the message itself my be tone deaf, silly, sometimes just dumb – but the messaging is refreshingly not safe, not pandering, not going along to get what they want from those who they think can give it to them.

Right now young architects see one modality in almost every press, school and award: a High Modern gleaming vision of shape, light, line and space: kinda cool mostly. But that’s like having every radio station, web page, CD only offering up Opera.

Pop music may be deemed shallow, country trite, Jazz vulgar, rock mind numbing: but the mix of all music is better than any one genre:

Politically parties have been distilled to caricatures of predictable affect, message and method – just like the architecture that is exclusively presented to the world as “best”.

Trump and Bernie may not actually have positions that have the support independent of their voices: but their voices are a sweet orison of counter pointing tone, a refreshing break from a baseline, a dazzling racing stripe on a bland car.

Architecture needs a Trump moment: an absurdity with the potency of difference that makes a domineering paradigm have a contrarian competing message. Competition makes competitors stronger- “personal best” is a nice idea but the wider the competition the stronger the competitors.

Architecture has been riffing off its own private server for a generation.

Inbreeding weakens every species. And the growing inbred irrelevance of celebrated architecture is making our culture mock its affect and pretense.

But until a Vulgarian captures their disdain, no one hears the absurdity of singing only to the choir in a church of empty pews.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 3, 2015 8:54 am


    Is there more, or does the piece just end with a whimper?


  2. September 4, 2015 9:24 am

    WoW – I agree completely


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