UPDATE: on february 24, 2021, president joe biden revoked his predecessor’s executive order ‘promoting beautiful federal civic architecture.’ ‘by overturning this order, the biden administration has restored communities with the freedom of design choice that is essential to designing federal buildings that best serve the public,’ says peter exley, 2021 president of the american institute of architects (AIA).



US president donald trump has issued an executive order stating that classical architecture should be the preferred and default style of all federal buildings going forward. the american institute of architects (AIA) has responded by saying that it will work with president-elect biden to reverse the executive order. ‘the AIA does not, and never will, prioritize any type of architectural design over another’, says the AIA in a statement.


the executive order, which can be read in full here, takes aim at the general services administration (GSA) — an independent agency of the united states government established in 1949 to help manage and support the basic functioning of federal agencies. specifically, the order references the san francisco federal building designed by morphosis. ‘GSA selected an architect to design the san francisco federal building who describes his designs as ‘art-for-art’s-sake’ architecture, intended primarily for architects to appreciate,’ says the order. ‘while elite architects praised the resulting building, many san franciscans consider it one of the ugliest structures in their city.’


another project brought up is the U.S. courthouse for the district of utah. ‘GSA selected a modernist architect to design salt lake city’s new federal courthouse,’ the order continues. ‘the architectural establishment and its professional organizations praised his unique creation, but many local residents considered it ugly and inconsistent with its surroundings.’ however, the order does site a ‘limited number of exceptions’, approving the design of the tuscaloosa federal building and courthouse and the corpus christi federal courthouse in texas. ‘the federal government has largely stopped building beautiful buildings’, it concludes.


in terms of policy, the executive order states that, in washington D.C., ‘classical architecture shall be the preferred and default architecture for federal public buildings absent exceptional factors necessitating another kind of architecture’. bloomberg reports that under the order, a ‘council for improving federal civic architecture’ will be formed to recommenced updates to the general services administration’s architectural guidelines.


if a brutalist or deconstructivist design is chosen, a detailed explanation will be required as to why the administrator believes selecting such design is justified. a particular focus will be on whether or not the design is ‘as beautiful and reflective of the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the american system of self-government as alternative designs of comparable cost using preferred architecture.’ however, this council will terminate on september 30, 2021, unless extended by the next president. read the executive order in full here.


image by louis velazquez