Trump Signs Executive Order Mandating “Beautiful” Federal Architecture
December 21, 2020
With less than a month left in office, President Donald Trump today signed an executive order establishing classical architecture as the “preferred” style for any new federal building constructed in Washington, DC. The order does not mandate the style, but does decree that new federal structures be “beautiful” and that they “command respect from the general public.” The order is additionally concerned with the buildings being immediately recognizable as civic structures.
An earlier draft of the order, released in February, that would have banned modernist design outright aroused the ire of the American Institute of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, both of whom were vocal in their condemnation. “Architecture should be designed for the specific communities that it serves, reflecting our rich nation’s diverse places, thought, culture and climates,” the AIA said in a statement at the time. “Architects are committed to honoring our past as well as reflecting our future progress, protecting the freedom of thought and expression that are essential to democracy.”
The signed iteration slams Brutalist architecture, specifically calling out the Hubert H. Humphrey Department of Health and Human Services Building and the Robert C. Weaver Department of Housing and Urban Development Building as “unappealing” and “unpopular.” Deconstructivism is additionally decried as subverting the “traditional values of architecture through such features as fragmentation, disorder, discontinuity, distortion, skewed geometry, and the appearance of instability.
The new order demands that the General Services Administration (GSA) seek the input of both the general public and the future Council for Improving Federal Civic Architecture, whose formation is mandated by the order. The new approvals system sidelines the GSA’s Design Excellence program, which is accused of selecting design “by prominent architects with little regard for local input or regional aesthetic preference,” with the result that “federal architecture sometimes impresses the architectural elite, but not the American people.” The order names “artists, architects, engineers, art or architecture critics, instructors or professors of art or architecture, or members of the building industry” as among those not considered to be part of the “general public” whose opinion is to be taken on matters of federal architecture.