While many in media lament the fact that Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has an occasional vulgar mouth, these shortsighted fifth columnists fail to consider the entire man. There is one aspect of his life that has been decidedly refined, and that is his architectural taste. In fact, Trump is the consummate conservative when it comes to his developments; his is an explicit rejection of what we might find in an authoritarian or totalitarian regimes.
The Washington Post, among the many other old media outlets, ran several screeds complaining about the renovations of Donald Trump’s International Hotel, which is the Old Post Office building in Washington, D.C. From the unfinished minor interior blemishes, to the fact that it costs more than a Motel 6 to stay the night, and finally to the effete claims that the food is passé, the hotel’s architectural renovation is purposely ignored in order to attempt his personal embarrassment. Most in the press would rather focus on the dozen or so protesters outside the Old Post Office rather than the hotel itself. Yet, Trump’s properties say something about the man. His buildings and renovations are explicit rejections of modernism, and wherever possible, represent a return to the classical forms of beauty. Consider his many other properties, including, Mar-a-Lago, Yorktown, 610 Park Avenue, the Vineyard Estates, Estates at Trump National, his assuming of the Plaza Hotel, and countless golf clubs, resorts, and international properties: they are traditional in significant respects. All of these are a testament to his commitment to beauty.
Trump has what we might call a traditional architectural taste, which would be more appropriately called architectural style. When it comes to the development of his properties, he is not given to fashionable trends. With the rare exception, every property he develops conforms to a classical design and long established norms. His hotel in D.C. is no different. While the outside of the hotel was kept intact, it was the renovation of the interior that we see the most significant Trump imprint.
According to reports, some members of the Trump architectural team resigned because his renovations were deemed insufficiently “historical.” One of those members, however, was a part of the 1970s-80s team that gutted the original center of the building by adding modernist touches including a hideous pink marble flooring while also repainting the interior in cream, gray, green, and ivory pastels. A new grand staircase was also added, which in his wisdom, Trump retained, but appropriately hid by extending the second floor, thus opening the second floor space to a warmer more open cortile. Further, the 1970s additions created assorted shops. Nothing could have claimed war on the purpose and fit of the building more.
The grand staircase detracted from the historical interior design of the building. It was decidedly out of character for the original Romanesque Revival architecture. Combined with the pink marble floor, the staircase ushered foot traffic to the second level where the black and white checkered tiles contributed to an unnatural flow. It lacked fit. If anything, Trump’s renovations have not destroyed the historical refinement of the building, but have revived it.
Trump made several improvements. He gutted the interior, for the most, part ripping out the unhistorical flooring for a more traditional, darker, marble. The entire second floor became the lobby, thus opening up a warmer space and confining the grand staircase’s presence, but leaving access to the first floor. The lobby is split into balanced equal parts with a large hotel bar. The mezzanine was replaced with a complementary marble flooring accentuating the grand lobby. The flight of stairs that lead from the lobby to the mezzanine, contains an eatery or restaurant that overlooks the lobby’s expanse.
All of these improvements complement, rather than detract from, the classical design of the building. The columns that line the interior of the building were restored. Trump’s refining elements complement the original traditional Corinthian capitals of the columns (which mostly line the top floor supporting Roman arches), thus combining elegance with refinement. We see this especially in the finely crafted guest rooms.
The hotel’s rooms and cortile are all anthropomorphic. This means that they complement the human form. They do not strike down the nature of humanity as we see in more modernist constructions such as the Guggenheim. Everything uplifts humanity. His tasteful buildings complement the human spirit, or human soul, not its destruction. We can see that even in the way he arranged the lobby is an ordered space, respectful of architectural traditions and classical design. Everything from the material used, to the appropriate placing of the area rugs and furniture, is reflective of classical design.
The ancient political architect Vitruvius understood that the proper development and the entirety of civilization depended upon the correspondence of architecture to the idea of nature and man’s place in it. This is why all buildings should be in the same proportion as the human body, which fits in ways that are symmetrical and orderly. Classical architecture requires order, proportion, harmony, and decor. It points to the divine by revealing certain truths in its very construction.
Trump also employs real material when he builds. There are no plastic replicas, or copies. He uses durable materials refined, and placed in a proper way to be accentuating of the beautiful landscape. This is significant because manmade crafted elements, made to look authentic or as something they are not, are inferior. Real materials complement the enduring rationality of life. Such materials carefully placed, suggest the structure is built to last. They points the rational mind in the direction of eternity; beauty implies the eternal.
Winston Churchill’s once said that “we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.” Trump understands this in a most significant way. He may speak like a modern, and act like a political populist, but in his most important contribution he is not a man of the modern world. His properties — in almost every instance — recognize the exalted place of the beautiful.