Biden kills Trump’s classical architecture agenda

President Joe Biden has made a radical change to the American Commission of Fine Arts this could have far-reaching implications for the aesthetics of the architecture of the federal government. Tuesday, the White House Biden ad a plan to appoint four new members to the commission, effectively crushing the efforts of the previous administration to impose a strictly classical style on all major government-funded buildings and monuments.

With this action, Biden officially killed former President Donald Trump’s efforts to mandate the use of Roman and Greek-style neoclassical architecture, with its columns, pale stone facades, and general imitation of 18th-century European-style buildings – an aesthetic that dominated the early buildings of the young United States of America. When it was first announced as a draft ordinance in early 2020, the Trump administration defined its design preference as “Make federal buildings look good again,” but design critics quickly swooned. pointed out that decreeing neoclassicism as an official style is more akin to the tendencies of dictators. like Adolf Hitler. Eventually renamed “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture,” Trump’s executive order eschewed modernism and brutalism and was reminiscent of a less diverse era in U.S. history that many believed contributed to the aesthetics of the United States. hatred of his administration.

Biden revoked this decree in February. Now he is appointing new members to the commission to ensure that such a draconian design mandate does not materialize. The seven-member commission advises the President and Congress on design and aesthetics, and helps guide the design of new or renovated memorials and government buildings. Since its inception in 1910, the commission has included influential designers such as landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and Hideo Sasaki, and architect Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Notably, the commission under Trump was filled by seven white men.

On Tuesday, the White House announced the names of its four new members, each of whom will serve unpaid four-year terms., and are, unlike the Trump administration’s approach, quite progressive. The new commissioners are architects Peter D. Cook, from HGA Architects, who worked at the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution; Professor of Urban Planning at Howard University Hazel Ruth Edwards; former executive director of the New York City Public Design Commission, Justin Garrett Moore, who is now the program manager of the Humanities in Place program at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and architect Billie Tsien, whose firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects designed the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago.

The new appointees represent a radical change for the old all-white commission, and they bring a diversity of experience and expertise. Edwards’ appointment, for example, will combine an in-depth knowledge of urban design with experience working with a predominantly female and minority college student body, according to John Anderson, dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture at Howard University. “In general, it’s more and more widely accepted that you get a better product with diversity,” he says. “Dr. Edwards is moving the commission forward in this regard.

The appointees replace four Trump-era commissioners, including Justin shubow, an ardent defender of classical architecture and president of the National Association of Civic Art, who has chaired the commission since his appointment in 2018 and is neither a designer nor a practicing architect. Each of the four has been invited by the White House Biden to resign or be replaced. Shubow refused to resign, and shared his rejection letter with NPR, noting that “[i]n the 110-year history of the Commission, no commissioner has ever been dismissed by a chairman, let alone the chairman of the commission. Such a deletion would set a terrible precedent. “

The other three commissioners replaced are landscape architect Perry Guillot, architect Steven Spandle and artist Chas Fagan, who were all appointed just days before Trump stepped down.

Decisions surrounding the composition of the Fine Arts Committee are hardly apolitical, as the appointees do not require confirmation by the Senate. Biden’s choices appear to tip the pendulum away from the Trump administration’s more controversial design trends, including his executive order to create a “National Garden of American Heroes,” a statuary park featuring similarities of historical figures including Ronald Reagan, Antonin Scalia and Harriet Tubman. It was a decree tinged with criticism of protesters calling for the removal of statues depicting Confederate generals and notoriously racist figures of the past – the types of statues the order called “silent teachers in solid stone and metal shapes. “.

Designers and curators have castigated this project. “At the end of the day, I think it’s a political act, not a landscape,” said landscape architect Gary Hilderbrand, co-founder of Boston-based firm Reed Hilderbrand. Fast company in July, when the park was first announced. “I think a directive like this is already too specific and too far-fetched, too biased.”

The White House Biden also canceled this plan. It is too early to say what aesthetic choices, if any, the new members of the Commission des Beaux-Arts will make. But with progressive voices in architecture and urban planning, their advice is likely to reflect a greater diversity of design approaches for the 21st century. Whatever form it takes, it seems likely that the hefty design ideas of the Trump era are little more than an eerie memory from a very different era.

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