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The United States Capitol Building, Washington, DC. Photo: Ron Cogswell/Flickr.
The United States Capitol Building, Washington, DC. Photo: Ron Cogswell/Flickr.

Proposed Executive Order to Mandate Neoclassical Style for Federal Buildings

The Trump administration is currently drafting a new executive order that will make classical architecture the only style permitted for future government buildings. Titled “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” a preliminary version of the order, which was obtained by the Architectural Record, attacks the current Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture and criticizes new constructions built under the General Service Administration’s (GSA) Design Excellence Program—the GSA’s chief architect, David Insinga, resigned last week.

Among the buildings described by the draft as having “little aesthetic appeal” are the US Federal Building in San Francisco, which was designed by Morphosis, and the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. US Courthouse in Miami, which is by Arquitectonica—both were completed in 2007—as well as the US Courthouse in Austin, Texas, a modernist structure by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects that opened in 2012. The draft argues that these buildings fail to reflect America’s “national values” and applauds the founding fathers for adopting the architectural styles of “democratic Athens” and “republican Rome,” which it claims represented the nation’s “self-governing ideals.”

The Guiding Principles were written by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan for President John F. Kennedy in 1962 as an outline of how public buildings should further the interests and aspirations of the American people. According to their website, they serve as the cornerstone of the GSA’s Design Excellence Program and call for federal buildings to fulfill two requirements: They must “provide efficient and economical facilities for the use of government agencies” and they “must provide visual testimony to the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the American government.”

However, the guidelines also state that “the development of an official style” and that “uniformity in the design of federal buildings” must be avoided. “Design must flow from the architectural profession to the government and not vice versa.” It also advises the government to work with local agencies to choose the architects for future projects.

While the order may come as a surprise to those who are familiar with Donald Trump’s background as a real estate developer—in the past he has favored modernism—the neoclassical style has been embraced by nationalists as well as white supremacists who have a history of appropriating and misusing symbols from the classical world. 

The US Courthouse in Austin, Texas. Photo: Wikimedia.