Opinion: Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again
|Carol Ross Barney, Design Principal and Founder, responds to the proposed Executive Order to “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.”
On the edges of the news this week it was reported that President Trump is considering an executive order that would make the classical style, appearing like Greek and Roman architecture, as the default for Federal Buildings. Among the more pressing stories like primaries and impeachment, this one may seem unimportant to anyone but architects and their fans. It may seem just a curious idea- but not worth much angst.
This is cause for alarm and a really bad idea. We should all be very concerned.
Our public buildings are possibly the most palpable representation of the freedoms that make our country great.
Great architecture has never happened simply by dictating style. Ironically, even the Romans knew that. In 40 BCE, architect Vitruvius opined that successful buildings have three qualities, firmness, commodity and delight. All three qualities vary greatly by project, function, location, time and the values of its people.
Since 1962, the General Services Administration (GSA), the nation’s landlord, has relied on the “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture” which were established under the leadership of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. To make newly commissioned buildings reach this high bar, GSA created their Design Excellence program to stress the guidelines and take advantage of review by peer professionals. The results do not adhere to a single style and have been critically acclaimed.
My studio has had the distinct honor and privilege to design buildings for our country through the GSA Design Excellence program. We have been simultaneously challenged and chastened by our responsibilities. For me, the most inspiring instruction in the “Guiding Principles” has always been: “It should be our object to meet the test of Pericles’ evocation to the Athenians, …We do not imitate-for we are a model to others.” Courageous, independent and innovative thinking is the foundation of our now centuries long experiment in government by the people. We need to continue to believe that we can make better, and yes, different buildings…and that the best and most beautiful isn’t something already made.