The American Institute of Architects (AIA) strongly supports legislation proposed today that would thwart an anticipated Executive Order mandating classical architecture as the preferred design style for federal courthouses and other federal properties.
The legislation, proposed July 15, 2020 by Alice Costandina “Dina” Titus, U.S. Representative for Nevada’s 1st congressional district since 2013, would override an expected Executive Order designating classical architecture as the preferred style for all U.S. federal courthouses and other buildings.
“We praise Congresswoman Titus for taking the first steps toward a more democratic approach to federal architecture,” said AIA Chief Executive Officer Robert Ivy, FAIA. “We stand committed to continuing to work with members of Congress to ensure we uphold the quality of our nation’s architecture.”
Mandated designs for government buildings have long been seen as evocative of pre-World War II Fascist governments, including Germany and Italy, that sought to codify a totalitarian world view with rigidly neoclassical buildings. Critics also point to Soviet-era apartment blocks as representative of the low quality of architecture whose style is government-mandated.
The proposed “Democracy in Design Act” (H.R.7604) would override the Executive Order by directing “the Administrator of General Services to ensure that the construction and acquisition of public buildings in the United States adheres to the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture.” By codifying the General Service Administration’s Design Excellence Program principles into statute, Congress will ensure the federal government maintains its current neutrality on architectural styles.
“Our public buildings should reflect the rich diversity of our nation and its people,” said Rep. Titus, Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, which oversees the General Services Administration and federal buildings. “They should signify our progress over the years and be as accessible as possible.”
AIA has taken a multi-pronged approach to stopping the Executive Order. In February, AIA members sent more than 11,400 letters to the White House condemning the mandated designation of “classical” architecture as the preferred style of all federal courthouses, all federal public buildings in the Capital region and all other federal public buildings whose cost exceeds $50 million. Additionally, AIA leadership issued letters on Feb. 6 and Feb. 20 to the Trump Administration strongly opposing the order.
“Mandating any single design style will undermine the value of the very architectural style it seeks to promote,” said AIA 2020 President Jane Frederick. “Buildings—both functionally and aesthetically—must be designed to serve their populations. It’s critical that communities have the ability to decide for themselves what architectural design best fits their needs.”