Neoclassical is Now in Session

AIA rejects Trump’s draft order for uniform federal architecture style

Rumors are swirling that the Trump administration wants to madate that all future federal buildings be designed in neoclassical style. (Courtesy Architect of the Capitol Flickr)

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) issued a response yesterday to the potential executive order that could force all future federal buildings to be designed in the neoclassical style. 

On Twitter, the organization rejected the Trump administration’s proposal, stating:

“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.” 

Yesterday, Architectural Record published news that it had access to a draft of the White House order which implied that the President wanted the Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture to be rewritten in favor of creating a singular style. Neoclassicism, the design style that the founding fathers chose for the U.S. Capitol, would become the “preferred and default style” under this new rule and would change the core value of the General Service Administration’s Design Excellence Program

Rather than pre-qualified architects receiving the chance to design uniquely-contemporary federal structures for the cities they serve, all future government buildings would instead be reminiscent of the monumental, white construction that has defined Washington, D.C., since its inception, as well as the structures built-in ancient Rome and Greece, and more recently, in Hitler’s Third Reich. Tradition is beautiful, the order argued; modernism (especially Brutalism and Deconstructivism) is ugly. Case in point: the draft order was titled “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.”

Street view of Brutalism FBI Building in D.C.

The FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C., is an example of one of Trump’s most-hated Brutalist designs. (Courtesy Wally Gobetz/Flickr)

Numerous classicism-loving groups feel the same way. On Twitter, several accounts called out the AIA for showing its “true colors,” accusing the organization of being opposed to “beauty and tradition.” Fast Company spoke to Steven Heller, co-chair of the MFA design program at the School of Visual Arts, who clarified that it’s not uncommon for governments to impose a preferred design style as a way to indicate authority. Think the projects built during the Works Progress Administration under FDR. 

Still, Heller said this move by the White House signals a larger issue: “When one design style is preferred over another, that may be construed as an aesthetic preference,” he told Fast Company. “But when it is linked to a presidential act of decree, especially a president that exhibits authoritarian tendencies, then there is reason for alarm. We tend to ignore the nuances of power, like graphics and architecture styles, until it’s too late.”  

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