What’s Happening: President Donald Trump has signed an executive order making neoclassical architecture the preferred style for federal buildings in Washington. The action stops short of mandating that all new federal buildings are built in a classical style, saying merely that they must be “beautiful.” The order applies to all new federal buildings in Washington, DC, and those outside Washington that cost more than $50 million.
The Download: In February, the Trump administration published a draft executive order, called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” in which the White House would dictate that all future government structures be designed in the neoclassical style. A jab at modern architecture, the move received condemnation by groups like the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and National Trust for Historic Preservation on the grounds that architecture should be designed for specific communities while protecting the freedom of thought and expression that are essential to democracy.
After months spent writing the executive order, the administration finally signed it this week. The order doesn’t call for an outright ban on modern architecture, but it forms a “Council for Improving Federal Civic Architecture” to recommend updates to the General Services Administration’s architectural guidelines. It also states that all new federal buildings must be “beautiful,” and that “classical architecture shall be the preferred and default architecture for federal public buildings absent exceptional factors necessitating another kind of architecture.” According to White House officials, polls show that a majority of Americans prefer traditional buildings; they also insist that modern structures aren’t easily identifiable as public buildings, which should impress the public at large—not only architectural elites.
In Their Own Words: “Architecture should be designed for the specific communities that it serves, reflecting our rich nation’s diverse places, thought, culture, and climates,” the AIA wrote, pledging to work with President-Elect Biden to reverse the order. “Architects are committed to honoring our past as well as reflecting our future progress, protecting the freedom of thought and expression that are essential democracy.”
The National Organization of Minority Architects also spoke out, noting that the order “signals the perceived superiority of a Eurocentric aesthetic. This notion is unacceptable and counterproductive to the kind of society that fosters justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.”
The National Civic Art Society, meanwhile, applauded the order. “Such distinguished and inspiring buildings connect us to our heritage, and are associated with the continuity, equality, and openness essential to a functioning republic,” president Justin Shubow said in a statement.
Surface Says: Let’s see how this order shapes up when Biden takes office.