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The buildings of despots, then and now

Trump Tower New York.
Trump Tower New York.Michael Nagle/Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloo

Trump’s developer cred doesn’t qualify him to hold sway on architecture

In his Nov. 27 column “Trump may be right about one thing: architecture,” Alex Beam agrees with Donald Trump that brutalist buildings are ugly, and speculates that Trump, “a developer by trade,” may know what he’s talking about when it comes to architecture. The board of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Institute of Architects and I, as the chapter’s president, respectfully differ with Beam on this point.

One might question whether Trump’s qualifications as a developer legitimize his architectural criticism. Does the draft of his unsigned executive order, “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” qualify him to direct the General Services Administration to adopt a genteel classical architecture to the exclusion of brutalism or any other modern style? His ruthless demolition of New York’s classical Bonwit Teller building, replacing it with Trump Tower, and his construction of glitzy casinos and corporate residential towers indicate that he is really all about maximizing financial profit from municipal investments in redevelopment, and emphasizing glossy facades of mirrored glass.

Public buildings are intended to increase access to a wide range of government services and for increasingly diverse segments of society. Trump’s attitude, which emphasizes style over substance, is antithetical to the role architecture plays in resolving the conflicts inherent in public life. It is architecture’s reliance on ethics and aesthetics that should guide the development of both public spaces and democratic institutions.


Ludmilla Pavlova-Gillham


Massachusetts chapter

American Institute of Architects


The writer is also senior campus planner at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

In hands of dictators, architecture is tool of control

I have always enjoyed Alex Beam’s wit, erudition, and often enlightening perspectives. However, his recent commentary “Trump may be right about one thing: architecture” misses a critical concept. Architecture in the hands of emperors, dictators, and dictator wannabes is a tool to impress and to influence and ultimately control behavior.


In the wrong hands, it has been used to support ideology and retain power, often with harmful results — for example, countless deaths during the construction of the pyramids, and Hitler’s plans for concentration camps and the new world capital in Berlin. Stalin’s socialist classicism led to millions living in soulless concrete people’s apartment blocks.

Creativity and a democratic process may be messy, and not everyone will be happy with the results. But they are better than the despot’s alternative.

John Decker