02/13/20 Dean Milton S. F. Curry Response to draft White House Executive Order, “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again”
President Trump’s draft White House Executive Order titled “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” proposes that Federal Buildings be designed in classical and other traditional styles. As a fellow American and as an architectural educator, I believe that the legacy of Federal Buildings are important symbols of the nation, and that the legacy of American architecture—like technology, business, the arts and entertainment—relies on innovation and creativity.
At USC Architecture, we teach our students to become ‘Citizen Architects,’ to move fluidly between theory and practice to inclusively design for broad constituencies and contexts. The context and function of Federal Buildings have evolved significantly since the days of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Today’s architects and designers must take into account radical changes in how these buildings function, their diverse users, their environmental footprint, and their catalytic role in influencing adjacent contexts that often include civic space and public landscapes.
Cities, the contexts in which Federal Buildings are largely situated, are comprised of buildings of different periods, allowing for a diversity of architectures to co-exist. Within each genre of architecture—classical, brutalist, modern, postmodern, deconstructivist—there are examples of mediocre and exceptional works. Elevating the quality of architecture should be our common goal, not singling out a particular style to represent the nation. The nation is not one person or one style. It is a conglomeration of a diverse polity. Let us remember our collective American creed, E pluribus unum: out of many comes one.
Therefore, in revisiting the Guiding Principles of 1962, I strongly encourage the president to embrace the diversity and exceptional expertise of the professional and academic communities in architecture and urban design and to revisit the draft White House Executive Order in an effort to forge a more coherent and inclusive framework to guide the next generation of Great American Federal Buildings.