Trump’s legacy isn’t just political

May 17, 2016
“Glitz and ego” is how Blair Kamin, architecture critic at the Chicago Tribune, summed up Trump’s architecture. Above, workers install the final letter for a giant sign on Trump Tower in Chicago. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Trump’s legacy isn’t just political

May 17, 2016
“Glitz and ego” is how Blair Kamin, architecture critic at the Chicago Tribune, summed up Trump’s architecture. Above, workers install the final letter for a giant sign on Trump Tower in Chicago. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Donald Trump is leaving his mark on the political system regardless of what happens or who wins. He’s also already left his mark architecturally. 

Emblematic of his design sensibilities as a developer, Trump Tower at Park Avenue in Manhattan glitters.

“I see waterfalls, granite, a lot of his name everywhere,” said Lauren Katz as she got her morning coffee at the Starbucks here. “Definitely a lot of gold — the escalators are gold, gold in the lobby, the bar has gold, gold all around.”

The building itself is built with gold-hued glass. 

Trump World Tower, center, is a sleek obsidian slab in New York that received high marks from the New York Times. 


“Trump … believes in using expensive materials that convey prestige and wealth, and people buy into that,” said Jerold Kayden, professor of urban planning and design at Harvard University. He said in some ways the legacy of Trump buildings is a matter of taste. “To some they are the height of ambition and the height of prestige and to others they are gaudy, but he has certainly pioneered with some others architecture as brand.”

Brand it is — Trump’s name is on at least nine buildings in New York alone, though he doesn’t own all of them.

“Glitz and ego,” is how Blair Kamin, the architecture critic at the Chicago Tribune, summed up Trump’s architecture. “He doesn’t do a lot of affordable housing.”

Kamin became a target of Trump’s after he criticized the decision to put a giant sign on one of the Trump’s Chicago buildings.

“The sign consisted of his name in stainless steel letters glowing at night, half as long as a football field.  The letters were 20-feet high and the sign was in a particularly annoying place,” he said.

The city council there passed an ordinance to keep this sort of thing from happening in the future, but the original giant Trump letters are still hung right up there.

Trump’s legacy, Kamin said, “ranges from buildings that have actually been praised to buildings that have been panned.”

Trump’s Chicago tower — aside from the sign — “is a pretty decent building,” he said. Back in New York, Trump World Tower, a sleek obsidian slab near the United Nations, received 

high marks from New York Times reviewer Herbert Muschamp. It had the first inertial damper in a residential building to control swaying.

On the other hand, Trump’s launched a string of luxury buildings along the Upper West Side of Manhattan that many criticized, including Jon Stewart, for casting a pall on the city.

Other New Yorkers view Trump’s investment in luxury buildings in undervalued locations in the ’90s as a contribution to New York’s renewal. To them, his construction represented investment at a time when New York was struggling with blight. 

“One aspect that I think is generally unrecognized is his sensitivity to designing buildings from the inside out,” said Jesse Keenan, research director at the Center for Urban Real Estate at Columbia. Trump builds for the rich, and the rich want personal urban spaces to feel luxurious. So balconies were placed for views, floor plans opened up, extra corners were added for more corner offices. The outside came second. Other than frequently having a giant Trump sign, of course.

“So in many ways you’re designing the building for the end user, which is a very different proposition from a superficial form that is in the mind of the architect, and you squeeze units into,” said Keenan.

So there are a lot of words you can use to describe Trump’s architectural legacy. Modernist, ostentatious, branded and — like the man — complicated. 

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