The building of the United States Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, DC (Wikimedia Commons)

During the last weeks of his presidency, Donald Trump signed an executive order to make federal buildings “beautiful again” by imposing a neoclassical style of architecture. On Wednesday, February 24, President Joe Biden nixed the mandate, among a series of other Trump-era executive orders and memos.

Titled “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture,” Trump’s executive order mandated that “classical architecture shall be the preferred and default architecture for Federal public buildings.”

America’s landmark buildings should “inspire the human spirit, ennoble the United States, command respect from the general public,” the order added. It went on to attack contemporary architectural designs that had been approved by the General Services Administration (GSA) as “unappealing,” “lack[ing] dignity,” and straight-up “ugly.”

“The resulting Federal architecture sometimes impresses the architectural elite, but not the American people who the buildings are meant to serve,” Trump’s order argued. An earlier draft of the order came close to banning 20th-century Brutalist and Deconstructivist architecture entirely, but a softer language was used in the final version, allowing different styles of architecture “where appropriate.”  

Biden’s decision to scrap the order might put him in a conflict with Justin Shubow, the Trump-appointed chairman of the US Commission of Fine Arts. Shubow, who is also president of the National Civic Art Society (NCAS), is believed to be the driving force behind Trump’s executive order.

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...