Is there any one style of American architecture? Well, it appears the Trump Administration might think so: Trump's government is considering plans to streamline the design of government buildings with a draft executive order called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.” According to The New York Times, the order would “establish classical style architecture, inspired by Greek and Roman architecture” for federal buildings throughout the country, “discouraging modern design.”
The mandate would apply to all federal courthouses and office buildings as well as all federal buildings contracted through the General Service Administration that cost more than $50 million. While styles other than classical can be proposed, the order sets a high standard for approval. A presidential “re-beautification” committee would have to review the designs, and the White House would still make the final decision.
The order argues for streaming classical style because that the founding fathers used Rome and Athens when they created the capital's buildings to symbolize “self-governing ideals,” reports Architectural Record. But it undermines the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture, which states that “The development of an official style must be avoided. Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government. and not vice versa.”
As advocates of the order, the National Civic Art Society, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., also believe that government buildings should only be classical. “For too long architectural elites and bureaucrats have derided the idea of beauty, blatantly ignored public opinions on style, and have quietly spent taxpayer money constructing ugly, expensive, and inefficient buildings,” Marion Smith, the group’s chairman, wrote in a text message to The New York Times.
But many architects adamantly oppose the order. After news of the draft order broke, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) denounced the mandate, arguing that architecture should be designed for the communities it serves, reflecting the country’s diversity. The AIA called on members to sign an open letter opposing the order to the Trump Administration. “The AIA strongly condemns the move to enforce a top-down directive on architectural style,” the letter says. “Design decisions should be left to the designer and the community, not bureaucrats in Washington, DC.”
The proposal is somewhat ironically incongruous with Trump's own preferred style. As a real estate developer, his architectural preference of glass (Trump Tower was once the tallest all-glass structure in New York, according to its website) reflects a thoroughly modern style. As for his personal design preference—the gold and rococo decor of his New York City penthouse is inspired by the Palace of Versailles.
Will the executive order be issued? The authors of the order hope to put it in front of President Trump within the next month, a person familiar with the the order told The New York Times.
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