Of the ‘Duck’ and ‘Trump’

A writing attempt to negotiate with the future of architecture and infrastructure under President Trump. It is relatively easy to predict the future of the American built-environment under Trump by skimming through the vast property-folio of the real-estate magnate’s empire online (which at the time of writing, crashed due to overwhelming site visits).

Extrapolating Trump’s built-folio would reveal a generic yet loud proclamation on the built-environment. Does his building aesthetics reflect his brazen politics? Perhaps. The huge ‘TRUMP’ signage on his buildings is a dead giveaway of a pompous personality. Upon further observation, Trump’s built-work is a manifestation of a seminal commentary by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, which is the ‘Duck’ and the ‘Decorated Shed’ polemic, from ‘Learning from Las Vegas’:

The ‘duck’ is when the building itself is a symbol. A diagram in ‘Learning from Las Vegas’ illustrates this as a building shaped as a duck demonstrating the structure and program

being distorted by an overall symbolic form. The ‘decorated shed’ is a conventional structure with independently applied ornaments, illustrated by a generic building plastered with a signboard which screams, ‘I am a monument’. This observation is based on the Las Vegas strip, on contemporary architecture in the age of consumerism and mass marketing.

Now, a gleaming Trump tower that nests within Las Vegas becomes the perfect example to aptly demonstrate what the trio meant. A gleaming, generic tower typology with large signage screaming ‘TRUMP’ on it? Check. That’s ‘decorated shed’. Now, the link between ‘decorated shed’ and the ‘duck: This generic high-rise form, with overly-stylized envelope of 24k gold-infused glass, coupled with a 40ft TRUMP signage contributes to the symbol enforcing the brashness, over-the-top confidence and bravado that we love or hate about Trump. The Trump tower as ‘duck’ is a literal symbol of Donald Trump himself.

Trump’s built-folio which alternates between the ‘duck’ and the ‘decorated shed’ has embodied a meaning that is understood by all and is integrated into his political mantras that has taken US by storm. His buildings have essentially become a ‘meme’; described by Metahaven in their essay “Can Jokes Bring Down Governments?” as ‘units of culture and behavior which survive and spread via imitation and adaptation’ – essentially the embodiment of shared ideas in a community, quickly and easily understood by all. A search on ‘Trump memes’ would reveal the collective views on Trump; either hilariously, seriously or downright bizarre. The Trump meme has reached its zenith and has penetrated the physical realm through the image brought by the Trump buildings. We can expect living in a built-environment of Trump’s memes where highways, airports, schools, hospitals have associated double meanings of a man whose politics has been the cause of many ‘meme’ jokes. At the very least we’ll know that no matter how generic and repetitive it gets, we’ll be able to get a good laugh out of it. In the prospect of that future, I could live with that.