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Reports: Draft Federal Order Targets Architecture

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

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A draft order entitled “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” could roll back a decades-long tradition that bars the government from taking a stance on an official architectural style, according to reports.

The draft reportedly would seek to ensure that the “classical architectural style” be the preferred and default mandate.

The Order

The draft, obtained by both the Architectural Record and The New York Times, reportedly slams the General Service Administration’s Design Excellence Program for its failure to reintegrate “our national values into Federal buildings” and specifically takes issue with Brutalism and Deconstructivism.

The order comes to light a week after the GSA’s Chief Architect and Director of the Design Excellence Program, David Insinga, resigned.


A draft order entitled “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” could roll back a decades-long tradition that bars the government from taking a stance on an official architectural style, according to reports.

The stance taken on classical architectural style directly rolls back the original “Guiding Principles,” written by late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1962, which mandated that Federal architecture not only “provide visual testimony to the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the American government,” but added that “an official style must be avoided” and that “design must flow from the architectural profession to the government and not vice versa.”

The guidelines continue with: “The Government should be willing to pay some additional cost to avoid excessive uniformity in design of Federal buildings.”

The new order (should it be put into effect) would essentially rewrite the rules for the design of any office building, headquarters, courthouses or otherwise federal buildings contracted through the General Services Administration costing more than $50 million.

If a style other than classical is proposed for such a project, it would need to be approved by a presidential “re-beautification” committee, which would review designs and give the White House the final say.

Such a committee would include the Commissioner of the GSA’s Public Building Service and at least one member of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, designated by the President.

The order was reportedly drafted a year ago and spearheaded by the National Civic Art Society (which is devoted to furthering classical architecture, calling contemporary style “by and large a failure” on its website), is slated to be put before President Donald J. Trump within the next month, according to The Times.

The draft has come under fire since the reports, with the American Institute of Architects releasing a statement in opposition:

“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 thought and expression that are essential to democracy.”

NCAS chairman Marion Smith defended the draft, however, saying that contemporary architecture has “created a built environment that is degraded and dehumanizing.” Further, he said that Americans are in support of classical style, and that the order isn’t calling for a “rigid neo-Classical program.”

The White House has declined to comment on the draft.


Tagged categories: Color + Design; Government; Government contracts; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; Regulations

Comment from Mark Anater, (2/12/2020, 8:15 AM)

With all due respect to the NCAS, this is a very bad idea. Lumping all modern architecture in with Brutalism and Deconstruction is misleading at best, and declaring classical style the "official" default will lead to repetitious buildings which may not be well suited for their purposes. It's hard to see this as anything but an attempt to quash modernism because certain factions don't like it. Reactionaries are coming out of the woodwork in the Trump era.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (2/12/2020, 12:27 PM)

Well, I guess a scalable, one-style-fits-all approach is what the US government is moving toward. How un-clever and un-exciting. I'm surprised they aren't going modular to permit them to add / remove building capacity as needed ;)

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