- In response to a draft executive order that could potentially restrict the design of federal architecture, former presidents of the American Institute of Architects have penned a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to reconsider.
- The "Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again" order would require federal buildings such as courthouses and agency headquarters to use classical or traditional styles of architecture that, according to the administration, "reflect American ideals and are places where Americans want to look at or work in." The order would not exclude the possibility of using alternative designs as long as they "command respect by the public for their beauty and visual embodiment of America's ideals," but the "preferred and default style" for buildings in the Washington, D.C., region and for all federal courthouses would be classical, inspired by Roman and Greek architecture, according to the draft mandate.
- The AIA said that the order flies in the face of the administration's policy of streamlining and reducing costly building regulations, as neoclassical design is typically more expensive and takes longer to execute than other styles of architecture. The institute added that "a one-size-fits-all approach to building design would ultimately result in sub-optimal buildings" and that a "rigorous" design process that includes experienced design and construction teams is what will give taxpayers the highest return on their investment.
In addition to courthouses, agency headquarters and other buildings in the National Capital Region, the order would also apply to federal buildings estimated to cost more than $50 million in 2020 dollars. The order would not cover infrastructure or land port-of-entry projects.
The order also promotes the use of other traditional styles of architecture such as Gothic, Romanesque, Spanish Colonial and other Mediterranean styles that are usually found in Florida and the American Southwest. Taking a hit are the Brutalist and Deconstructivist styles, which the order describes as block-like and disordered, respectively.
Currently, the design of federal buildings is informed by the U.S. General Services Administration's "Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture." Design, the GSA said, must be efficient, economical and "must provide visual testimony to the dignity, enterprise, vigor and stability of the American Government." The government, according to the principles, must also avoid establishing an official style of architecture and take its lead from the "architectural profession." The president's proposed order is in direct contravention to this. And while the principles dictate economic efficiency, they also allow for spending more money on design to avoid "excess uniformity."
Additional guiding principles from the GSA are:
- Preferred designs should "embody the finest contemporary American architectural thought."
- Designers should consider incorporating regional architecture styles.
- Materials, methods and equipment must be of proven dependability.
- Buildings should be accessible to the disabled and economical to operate and maintain.
- Site selection is the first important step in the construction process.
If executed, the draft order would also establish the President's Committee for the Re-Beautification of Federal Architecture for a period of one year with the mission of updating the Guiding Principles so that they advance the goals outlined in the order.