Editor’s Desk: Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again

Should Government Buildings Only Employ Classical Architecture?

Do you have a really ugly building in your town?  I mean, so ugly that you consistently take a different street just to avoid it?  Chances are it’s a private building, like a hotel, office tower, or McMansion.  But, what if it was one of your local, regional, or state government buildings?  Americans, and other global citizens, tend to expect their federal buildings to exemplify the beauty of their country and its values.  So, do you think that the government should have mandates in place to articulate and obligate certain styles of architecture for federal buildings?  Recently, this notion has been presented on Capitol Hill, and subsequently met with heated backlash from the architecture community.

         Earlier this year, the National Civic Art Society, a nonprofit organization that champions the use of classical tradition in architecture, including public buildings and monuments, informally launched a Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again campaign.  A group of activists from the National Civic Art Society had hopes that President Trump would take the order draft and make it official, but while the White House has declined to comment on the order, it caused quite a commotion among architects and proponents of artistic freedom.

         After World War II, architecture, particularly in Washington, D.C., started to lean towards a more modernist architectural style, and therefore, birthed a few monolith buildings in the nation’s capital.  In 1974, the first FBI employees moved into their new headquarters at the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C., although they may have thought they were mistakenly arriving at a gigantic parking garage.  “Honestly, I think it’s one of the ugliest buildings in the city,” said President Trump, when speaking of the government building that lies a few blocks from the White House as well as the Trump Hotel.  “It looks like an abandoned set from The Hunger Games,” said Senator Mike Lee of Utah.

         Yes, it’s ugly, as are many state and federal buildings across the country, including the West.  I’m looking at you, Tempe, Arizona, with your oddly shaped City Hall.  But, should we disallow government buildings from showing the progression and innovation of architecture over the decades?  Must we only employ architecture that is deemed aesthetically pleasing and doesn’t speak to the metamorphosis of building design?  Many people within the architecture circuit say no.

         The Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again text states that new federal buildings should inspire the public and make Americans feel proud of their public buildings.  Classical and traditional architectural styles, the National Civic Art Society argues, have proven their ability to inspire respect for America and its government.  In an era where the world, and America in particular, are struggling to create a template for cultural cohesion, whitewashing federal buildings seems to be a step in the wrong direction. 

         While Brutalist Architecture, such as the J. Edgar Hoover building, might not be fun to look at, it’s hard to get behind an executive order that would disallow varied architectural styles in a country that serves an increasingly diverse society.  In my opinion, nothing makes me more proud to be an American than to see new art, ideas, and viewpoints welcomed, nurtured, and elevated.

Marcus Dodson

editor & publisher

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