The president has riffed on many a bizarre subject from his toilet-flushing habits to his appearance under LED lightbulbs. But Donald Trump has a new target in his unending war of grievances against modernizing how we live: windows.
Specifically, tiny windows. During Thursday’s debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Trump wandered off into a rant about retrofitting homes.
“They want to take buildings down because they want to make bigger windows into smaller windows,” he said, speaking of “AOC plus three” and what I can only assume is a reference to the Green New Deal. “As far as they’re concerned, if you had no window, it would be a lovely thing...They want to knock down buildings and build new buildings with little, tiny, small windows and many other things.”
This isn’t the first time Trump tiny window riff. There are at least four instances since July of the president raging against the scourge of small windowed homes and offices. The Green New Deal as well as Joe Biden’s climate plan both call for retrofitting homes. The former goes big, calling for 8 million retrofits per year over the next decade while the latter calls for an “upgrade” to 4 million buildings and 2 million weatherizations over four years. Both are good, though Biden’s plan could be majorly improved upon.
But largely absent are any mention of what their positions are on windows. After some research and speaking with experts, I feel safe reporting these plans are not a Trojan horse to take away red-blooded Americans’ access to views and replace them with a poster of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.
“To anyone concerned about protecting their property: The government is not coming for your windows,” Reinhold Martin, the director of Columbia’s Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, told me in an email.
Martin Finio, a senior critic at the Yale School of Architecture, partner at Christoff:Finio Architecture, and partner at Hatfield Group Engineering, was more direct: “It’s bullshit.”
Your windows are safe if Joe Biden wins, America. And in fact, they could become more efficient and save you money. Finio said that we should think about how we build and retrofit even more radically and to integrate buildings with the natural environment and our communities, opening ourselves to a whole new world view of what’s possible.
“We’re not actually coming to tear down your house and build a socialist utopia or whatever,” Kate Wagner, an architecture critic and the proprietor of McMansion Hell. “We literally just like want you to have thicker walls, get solar or use more energy efficient windows. To destroy something instead of retrofitting it is a crime.”
But it still begs the question: What the hell is happening to cause Trump’s brain to fixate on tiny windows?
It is true that windows can be some of the biggest impediments to energy efficiency, something that’s crucial to reducing the carbon emissions of buildings. In architecture parlance, the building envelope is the exterior of a building and the more windows you have, the more potential energy leakage you have either because they let in sunlight that warms spaces in summer or transfer heat to the outside world in winter.
“Historically, windows have been vulnerable point,” Finio said. “But the way in which we’ve evolved to build windows, we can make a thermally efficient window.”
That includes triple glazing with pockets of air separating three layers of glass, which can improve insulation, as well as frames that have what are called “thermal breaks” to further cut down on heat transfer. Trump had his heyday as a developer in the 1980s when this type of efficient window was much harder to come by. So perhaps he’s caught in a time loop of some sorts, which frankly wouldn’t be the first time. Wagner also gave some credence to this theory, though from a slightly different angle.
“My thought is Trump has ‘80s brain,” she said. “In the 80s, there was a pushback in architecture against modernism. With Reagan, there was a cultural push against the green movement. Architecture at that time was self-indulgent.”
Reagan famously took solar panels off the White House and the 1980s was generally a time of consumerism and excess of everything from hair to living to cocaine (there’s even a great Twitter account that melds the latter two). Trump is an icon of that era, with his gold-plated, dictator chic penthouse. Many of the skyscrapers he constructed at the time also lean into the aesthetic, featuring sheer faces of windows known as curtain walls. Many of his buildings use inefficient windows, and with new building rules in New York, those buildings now face millions in fines for wasting energy. So perhaps Trump has extrapolated all that to mean he must now put in tiny windows.
We also know Trump hates the Green New Deal and is rattled by a group of powerful, well-liked women of color pushing for a more equal and fair America. We also know he watches tons of Fox News, which has spent the better part of the past 18 months concocting wild conspiracy theories about the Green New Deal. So yet another option may be Trump is reverse engineering the tiny window fever dream while borrowing a page from Fox News of making shit up. Trump’s aesthetic is large windows and therefore the Green New Deal must be the opposite and worse. Reality has different ideas, however.