Call to Action: “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again”?

It was 8:49 on Tuesday evening when an email notification came across my phone. I was watching a movie but decided I’d see what the email had to say. It was from a colleague regarding an article in the Architectural Record. The article by Cathleen McGuigan (editor-in-chief of Architectural Record) was about a preliminary draft of an executive order rewriting the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture (a document written by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and issued in 1962 that mandates Federal architecture standards). According to Architectural Record, the new Guiding Principles will be rewritten and will be called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.”1

“Is this real life?” I caught myself asking aloud.

The original Guiding Principles outlined that federal buildings “must provide visual testimony to the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the American government,” and that, “an official style must be avoided.”2 According to Sarah Dodge, AIA Senior Vice President, Advocacy and Relationships, in an email requesting action, “the draft circulating for consideration by White House officials would officially designate “classical” architecture as the preferred style for federal courthouses, federal public buildings in the [Capitol] region, and all other federal public building whose cost exceeds $50 million dollars.” She goes on to say that the drafted document, “specifically prohibits the use of “Brutalist” architecture or its derivatives.”

Whether or not this order comes to fruition is yet to be seen; but it poses some concerning questions about the role of the designer and the standards imposed on them by the government. The AIA has responded quickly. They issued the following statement in the article, “The AIA strongly opposes uniform style mandates for federal architecture. Architecture should be designed for the specific communities that it serves, reflecting our rich nation’s diverse places, thought, culture and climates. Architects are committed to honoring our past as well as reflecting our future progress, protecting the freedom of though and expression that are essential to democracy.”

Concerned? Act Now

Click here to email President Trump (Link from AIA)

Let’s Talk About This

While I am still forming thoughts on this topic, it is important to shed some light on the potential issue as soon as possible and use this platform to start the conversation:

  • Should the government dictate style guidelines to designers of federal buildings?
  • How do these revised guidelines impact the hiring process of architectural firms?
  • What does this mean for the architecture profession?
  • Where do we draw the line? Will federal buildings be the only type of building with style restrictions?

Please use the comments section below to tell us your thoughts.

  1. Architectural Record: Will the White House Order New Federal Architecture To Be Classical?
  2. GSA Design Guiding Principles
  3. Image: Wikipedia Commons Jpeg

5 Replies to “Call to Action: “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again”?”

  1. We do Federal Work on occasion. Descriptors like convey perpetuity and draw from regional and vernacular are discussed often. Classical style isn’t always a good fit.

  2. Thank you everyone who has clicked and on the link and followed through with the call for action. As of a few hours ago, there had been 5,800 emails sent to the president. AIA has 95,000 members, it would be great to reach at least 5% of the membership speaking up.

  3. It’s been a while since my History of American Architecture class, but this is a good representation of what we learned:
    “Neoclassicism in the US is directly related to the construction of whiteness. It was whiteness that was sought after in the many plantation houses that chose the style, justifying it as an emulation of ancient Greek “culture” to separate themselves from the Indigenous peoples whose land was stolen and the enslaved African people forced to build and work in them. Thomas Jefferson’s excitement with the work of the Beaux Arts school in Paris was motivated by a desire to make America “European,” and white. In Europe, well-known totalitarian regimes — Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union — infamously dictated the use of the classical style. This is not coincidental. The need to limit architectural style is motivated by a fear of the people and populist expression. The administration’s chosen style glorifies an imperialist, colonialist, and white supremacist past.”

    The Architecture Lobby calls for all architects to stand against not only this executive order but every instance of oppression and marginalization through the control of architectural aesthetics:

  4. Your action is requested again regarding this executive order. <– click the link to request cosponsors for "Democracy in Design Act." I encourage you to do your due diligence to research the issue and act if you feel so moved. Thanks!

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