President Trump signed an executive order on Monday that establishes classical architecture as the preferred style for new federal buildings but stops short of banning newer designs from consideration.
The executive order, titled “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture,” mandates that federal buildings be “beautiful” and praises the characteristics of Greco-Roman architecture; by contrast, recent modernist designs are described in the text as “ugly and inconsistent.”
“Classical and other traditional architecture, as practiced both historically and by today’s architects, have proven their ability to meet these design criteria and to more than satisfy today’s functional, technical, and sustainable needs,” reads the order. “Their use should be encouraged instead of discouraged.”
Signed in the final days of the Trump administration, the executive order represents a victory for traditionalists who regard contemporary architecture as degraded and dehumanizing.
But many members of the architecture community have criticized the imposition of a preferred style in federal building projects. Earlier this year, groups including the American Institute of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation opposed a draft of the executive order that would have banned modernist design.
The new rule was supported by the National Civic Art Society, a nonprofit group.
“President Trump is to be applauded for inaugurating a literally beautiful new era in federal architecture,” said Justin Shubow, the nonprofit’s president. “Overturning the modernist hegemony that has given us dismal government buildings for over 60 years, the order gives the American people what they want in federal design.”
But architects criticized the order, even as some described it as relatively toothless.
“Though we are appalled with the administration’s decision to move forward with the design mandate, we are happy the order isn’t as far-reaching as previously thought,” Robert Ivy, chief executive of the American Institute of Architects, said in a statement promising that his organization would never prioritize any one type of architectural design over another. The group said it would ask the incoming Biden administration to reverse the order.
Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic for The New York Times, condemned the measure last February. “Just to have this argument feels demeaning,” he wrote.
Some saw the order as being about more than architectural style.
“The executive order is meaningless,” said Reinhold Martin, an architecture professor at Columbia University “This is an effort to use culture to send coded messages about white supremacy and political hegemony.”
The order will also update the General Services Administration’s selection process by requiring input from the general public and future building staff. Additional updates will be recommended by a newly created committee of public officials called the President’s Council on Improving Federal Civic Architecture.
The new rules will apply to the construction of federal courthouses and agency headquarters, government buildings in Washington, and projects costing more than $50 million.
Representatives from the incoming Biden administration did not immediately respond to emails asking if the president-elect plans to uphold the executive order after coming into office next month.