Despite the persistent opposition and public protest of the architectural elites against a proposed executive order titled Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again, first obtained and reported by the Architectural Record eleven months ago, President Trump, on December 21, signed the executive order titled Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture, which declares that “traditional and classical architecture” is the “preferred architecture for applicable Federal public buildings.”
Acknowledging the possibility of new building designs that do not fit the favored category, yet still beautify the public square, the executive order—to the great surprise of the establishment—makes an exception. It allows contemporary designs “that command respect from the general public and clearly convey to the general public the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of America’s system of self-government” a seat in the selection process, overseen by the General Services Administration, for future Federal public building projects.
Recalling the ancient wisdom of the past, the executive order begins with an excerpt from the 1309 Constitution of the City of Siena, which reads: “[w]hoever rules the City must have the beauty of the City as his foremost preoccupation…because it must provide pride, honor, wealth, and growth to the Sienese citizens, as well as pleasure and happiness to visitors from abroad.” It also includes the pronouncements of the British Architect Sir Christopher Wren, who stated, “public buildings [are] the ornament of a country. [Architecture] establishes a Nation, draws people and commerce, makes the people love their native country…Architecture aims at eternity.”
Not a single day passed after the signing before the American Institute of Architects released a press statement denouncing the executive order for “mandating design preference for federal architecture.” The Executive Vice President and CEO of the AIA, Robert Ivy, remarked that “Communities should have the right and responsibility to decide for themselves what architectural design best fits their needs, and we look forward to working with President-Elect Biden to ensure that.” Expecting such a response from an exclusive organization that claims to represent the people, the executive order declares that the “GSA should seek input from the future users of applicable public buildings and the general public in the community where such buildings will be located before selecting an architectural firm or design style.”
Furthermore, highlighting the lack of commitment to the trinity of the modern left (equality, diversity, and inclusion), Torey Carter-Conneen, American Society of Landscape Architects CEO, stated: “Civic spaces, whether they be federal buildings, parks or national monuments, should reflect the values of equality, diversity and inclusion to which we as a nation aspire,” and is already pressing for the “incoming administration to rescind this order upon assuming office.” In the face of these negative reactions, one might ask why the progressive left, to include the architectural establishment, objects the executive order. According to a new survey commissioned by the National Civic Art Society involving two thousand citizens from all backgrounds (race, gender, income, education, and party affiliation included), over 72% of the participants prefer traditional architecture.
As the nation witnessed during the height of the “peaceful protests” and “summer of love,” protesters, for weeks on end, not only tore down historic statues on impulse-driven irrational motives and mob rule, but vandalized federal and state capitol buildings, resulting in millions of dollars’ worth in damages. The Colorado State Capitol, built in the 1890s in the Neoclassical style, was one of those buildings unmercifully defaced by the revolutionary vanguard. In the protest’s aftermath, graffiti was visible on every side of the building and the steps leading to the main corridors. Newly replaced windows were smashed and boarded, and street lights shattered; no stone was left unturned.
For those individuals who vandalized historic federal and state buildings, classical and traditional forms of architecture represent everything they firmly reject and oppose in their personal lives. The artistic discipline required to construct the building within the bounds of scale and proportion, the order and stability expressed by the marble colonnades, and the invocation of our Western heritage—the architecture of Greek and Roman antiquity—are all diabolically incompatible with modern man’s insatiable love of progress for its own sake, his absolute disregard for virtue and the transcendent, and most gravely, the lack of order within the human soul. The style of architecture best suited to the illiberal left would be “deconstructivism,” which “subverts the traditional values of architecture through such features as fragmentation, disorder, discontinuity, distortion, skewed geometry, and the appearance of instability.”
In Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World, Anthony Esolen observes that modern man is culturally homeless, divorced from the vast lineage of our Western cultural heritage and thus, standing alone in relation to the past, present, and future. “They who are at home in culture,” Esolen writes, “dwell in something that spans the generations and renews them, throwing bridges across the divides of class and sex and age.” When we enter the illustrious halls of Congress or walk up the granite steps leading to the colossal Lincoln Memorial, we—The People—become aware of the gravitas of the American political project; we are reminded of our nation’s continuity with the great Western tradition. “[The Founding Fathers] sought to use classical architecture to visually connect our contemporary Republic with the antecedents of democracy in classical antiquity,” the executive order reads, “reminding citizens not only of their rights, but also their responsibilities in maintaining and perpetuating its institutions.”
Conversely, what becomes of the man who has no home, culture, or past? Since all men are born with a telos and the free will to pursue that aim, what path does the revolutionary, culturally illiterate man endeavor on, and what is his philosophical framework? Thomas Molnar, in The Counter-Revolution, answers:
The promise of revolutionary doctrine is then predicated on the denial of stable forms, whether of art, institutions, or the meaning of words, and on the denial of time…Hence, the destruction of the old becomes an urgent matter, a historic duty. Shirking this duty, let alone obstructing the avenue of progress, is a major crime, in fact the only sin the revolutionary recognizes.
Although the executive order will have minimal impact on the daily lives of most Americans, and none at all for those federal bureaucrats working out of the monstrous J. Edgar Hoover Building, it will, nevertheless, spark a much desired renaissance in the use of classical architecture in the construction of new Federal public buildings. Just as Saint Augustine felt when he fathomed his newfound, inestimable love for God, we will cry out the same words upon the sight of such divine beauty reflected in our architecture: “O Beauty ever ancient, ever new.” Let us be grateful for the continual effort and dedication put forth by the National Civic Art Society that made the signing of the executive order, Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture, possible. Also, let us hope that this executive order will remain in place, and play a vital role in beautifying our republic for ages to come.