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President Biden has reversed President Trump’s executive order on “beautiful” federal buildings

Tim Gibson

26 February 2021

PRESIDENT BIDEN has reversed one of former President Donald J. Trump’s final executive orders - a December 2020 mandate that all new US federal buildings be “beautiful”.

“Beautiful”, as defined by the Trump administration, limited architecture to purely classical Greek or Roman styles, while outright dismissing Brutalism, Modernism, or any architectural movement that became popularised after 1950.

While the specifics of Joe Biden’s order have not yet been released, the President has instructed the director of the Office of Management and Budget to "promptly consider taking steps to rescind any orders, rules, regulations, guidelines, or policies, or portions thereof" that were in place for Trump’s order.

The move will also likely disband Trump’s Council on Improving Federal Civic Architecture, which was created in December 2020.

Above: Trump's order would have kept federal architecture in strictly classical Greek or Roman styles.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has thrown their support behind Biden’s decision, with president Peter Exley saying in a statement that “by overturning this order, the Biden administration has restored communities with the freedom of design choice that is essential to designing federal buildings that best serve the public.

"This is fundamental to an architect's process and to achieving the highest quality buildings possible. We look forward to continuing to work with the administration towards developing policies that create healthy, just and equitable communities."

The decision has, however, put Biden’s administration at odds with the US Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), an independent federal agency that advises lawmakers "on matters of design and aesthetics."

Above: The AIA was critical of Trump's limiting executive order.

Trump appointed Justin Shubow, a staunch critic of modern architecture, to the CFA in 2018.

Speaking to NPR, Shubow defended Trump’s executive order: “Our federal architecture has been dismal for decades, and has been designed in modernist styles that do not represent what ordinary Americans actually want."

Trump appointed three other members to the seven-member CFA during his term in office.

Architecture critic Philip Kennicott has called on Biden to quickly “remove the current members” and replace them “with a diverse body of professionals, including women and people of color, who bring a wide and spirited range of aesthetic viewpoints to the commission's monthly meetings."


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