Like everyone else on Wednesday morning, the designers at Toronto firm Partisans woke up to the jolting reality of President-Elect Donald Trump. “Where do we go from here?” co-founder Alex Josephson asked. The response from an equally despairing friend of the firm’s in New York: “Do something funny.” So Josephson launched an internal competition among his team to redesign the White House in a way that reflects its future tenant – and to bring some levity to this confusing moment in history.
The firm posted its six favourite renderings on Instagram as the #reconstructamericaagain series (“Trying to stay positive this morning and make some #lemonade”). It features the White House as the ultimate tower podium for a number of garish possibilities: impaled by Trump Tower, its gilded logo emblazoned on a new glass portico; capped by Trump’s recently shuttered Taj Mahal casino; dwarfed under massive scaffolding shaped like a golden goose (or Scrooge McDuck) with a Trump combover. In one rendering – called “Under New Management” – a man in a vibrant poncho and sombrero is being taloned away by a giant eagle while spotlights illuminate a skyscraper-surrounded White House.
These riffs on Trump’s enterprising boorishness – as well as his real-estate-tycoon and reality-TV-star personae – also make for biting architectural criticism. In its exploration of Toronto’s condominiumization in the recent book Rise and Sprawl (with architecture critic Hans Ibelings), Partisans examined the city’s prevalent tower-on-podium typology as well as the absurdity of condo marketing. In this surreal exercise, the White House is the ultimate podium, and the rendering entitled Presidential Suites – a glittery high-rise surrounded by a golf course – looks like an aspirational condo ad.
The series also plays with the notion of the White House as the ideal image of the home, even though – as Michelle Obama recently reminded us – it was built by slaves. The idea of #reconstructamericaagain subverts Trump’s Make America Great Again propaganda by summoning the post-Civil War era of reconciliation.
Ultimately, the renderings are meant to bring humour to the prospect of an America that may be changing in ways yet unfathomable. They reflect the sentiment of many artists and designers grappling with Trumpism and the contentious U.S. election.
“Political satire is probably one of the most important forms of communication,” says Josephson. “Levity is a way to heal some wounds. It’s not a belittling of the gravity of the situation, but a way to find another angle of looking at this – and of coming to grips with reality.”