Washington D.C. will not be rebuilt in the image of 1990s Moscow

Michal Murawski, Lecturer in Critical Area Studies, UCL, discusses the near misses that could have been Donald Trump’s architectural legacy.

The draft executive order was leaked to the Architectural Record on 4 February 2020.

In February 2020, Donald Trump issued a federal order in consequence of which federal buildings were to be “made beautiful again“. The order called for the US’ 1962 Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture to be re-written “to ensure that ‘the classical architectural style shall be preferred and default style’ for new and upgraded federal buildings”. This order was reminiscent in content and spirit to the guiding principles adhered to by the late Yuri Luzhkov, the all-powerful Mayor of Moscow during 1992-2010: “in the centre we only build historically, glass only in suburbs, and no smooth facades.”

An excerpt from the preliminary executive order detailing examples of “ugly” structures.

Now, Trump and Luzhkov have a lot in common. Luzhkov’s court sculptor was the Georgian Zurab Tsereteli, who for two decades was perhaps the world’s most influential artist, to the extent that he filled Moscow to the brim with extravagant and outsized sculptural and architectural realisations. Tsereteli worked abroad too, and he came close in 1997 to being allowed to erect a 100-metre monument to Columbus on New York’s Upper West side.

Zurab Tsereteli had built another Columbus statute in 1997 called the ‘Birth of the World Order’. The 110m statue was considered so hideous it remained homeless until 2016 where it was accepted by Peurto Rico. (By El Alternativo, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Tsereteli was invited to realise this project by his good friend Trump (who called him “major and legit” and “the closest to me in spirit, the best sculptor of Russia”); the initiative was only blocked by – of all people – Rudy Giuliani, who stepped in to prevent the “Tseretelization” of New York City. Would Donald Trump, emboldened by a second term, have called on his old friend Tsereteli in the realisation of his dream to finally Make America Beautiful Again? We will (probably) never know.

Zurab Tsereteli’s 98m high monument to Peter the Great in Moscow (1997), rumoured to be a repurposed early cast of the Columbus monument destined for Trump’s Riverside South development on Mahattan’s Upper West Side. (CC BY 4.0

While Joe Biden’s personal aesthetic preferences may not differ radically from Donald Trump’s, it is fair to say that he is less likely to call on the services of this particular Georgian sculptor in order to re-build Washington D.C. in the image of 1990s Moscow.


The cover photo is the U.S. Supreme Court building, completed in 1935, which is considered a neoclassical masterpiece. Photo by Joe Ravi (CC BY-SA 3.0)


NoteThe views expressed in this post are those of the author, and not of the UCL European Institute, nor of UCL.

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