Statement on Inclusivity in the Design of Our Built Environments
On December 21st, President Trump signed “Executive Order on Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture.” This executive order aims to update the 1962 “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture,” and would place significant constraints on how most federal buildings constructed by the government’s General Service Administration (GSA) could be designed and built.
The order, pushed by the National Civic Art Society and condemned by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), aims to promote the “traditional” and “classical” styles of architecture above other designs in order to create “beautiful” federal buildings that are “reflective of the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the American system of self-government.” Through this new order, Euro-centric designs are encouraged, and an extensive reporting process is required for the use of other forms of architecture that may be more appropriate and reflective of the local culture. Washington, D.C., is specifically called out in the order noting that “classical architecture shall be the preferred and default architecture for Federal public buildings absent exceptional factors necessitating another kind of architecture.” This dictatorial approach to local design choices undermines true community input into how the American people want their ideals, beliefs, and cultures reflected in their built environment.
By contrast, the 1962 principles note that “Specific attention should be paid to the possibilities of incorporating into such designs qualities which reflect the regional architectural traditions of that part of the Nation in which buildings are located. Where appropriate, fine art should be incorporated in the designs, with emphasis on the work of living American artists.” The 1962 principles focused on encouraging architects and other arts and design professionals to bring their expertise in creating buildings that reflect the ideals of the American people. President Kennedy in relation to the passing of the principles was quoted as saying, “We do not imitate – for we are a model to others.” The order signed by President Trump aims to imitate the styles created by artists and architects of other times, nations, and cultures.
Additionally, the new order as written prioritizes a singular notion of beauty, whereas the 1962 principles prioritized “efficient and economical facilities for the use of Government agencies” followed by providing “visual testimony to the dignity, enterprise, vigor and stability of the American Government.” Further, it is noted that federal buildings should be “accessible to the handicapped.” The notion of how the design and architecture relates to the function of the building and specifically calling out the need to address accessibility for the general public are not mentioned in the signed order by President Trump.
Americans for the Arts opposes President Trump’s executive order, and particularly objects to the components that seek to homogenize federal architecture by limiting the design of American Government buildings.
Americans for the Arts echoes the sentiments from the 1962 principles and stands in solidarity with AIA and ASLA to ensure that buildings of all types can be created in ways that comply with and amplify the goals and desires of the communities in which they will exist. We support the development of arts and cultural policies that nurture accessibility and inclusive access to all venues of expression, including the design and development of our built environment.
You Can Make a Difference
- Make your voice heard. We are staying in contact with Congress and the White House on this issue. You should, too. Join the Arts Action Fund to take political action. It’s free. We will send you alerts so you can respond to decision-makers fast.
- Inform us of any specific actions impacting the arts in your community because of the President’s actions by emailing [email protected].
- You are not alone. Various other service organizations for architects and civic design professionals, including the American Institute of Architects, and the American Society of Landscape Architects have released statements decrying the executive order, which means that communities contemplating drafting similar responses have examples to consider.