On Tuesday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio introduced the “Beautifying Federal Civil Architecture Act,” a bill that will make classical and traditional architecture the preferred architectural style for certain federal buildings.
“Federal buildings physically embody our system of government and its institutions,” Rubio said in a statement. “Federal buildings should therefore reflect our government’s dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability while inspiring civic pride. I am proud to introduce the ‘Beautifying Federal Civil Architecture Act’ to restore the tradition and beauty that our nation’s federal architecture has lost.”
The legislation would codify Trump’s “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” executive order, which would have required new office buildings in Washington, D.C. be classical in design had it not been undone by President Joe Biden one month into his presidency. Republican Rep. Jim Banks introduced the House version of the bill last month.
Since 1962, modernism has been the official government building style after the General Services Administration adopted the “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture.” “Until the 1990s, there were few to no buildings constructed in a traditional style,” explains the National Civic Art Society. Under a program launched in 1994, “only 6 of the 78 federal buildings constructed have been classical or traditional—i.e., just 8%—with the remainder (92%) Modernist or post-modernist.”
Yet the American people strongly favor classical architecture over international and brutalist (aka ugly and depressing) stylings. In a 2020 study conducted by the Harris Poll, the National Civic Art Society found 72 percent of Americans prefer traditional rather than modern architecture for U.S. courthouses and federal office buildings. Moreover, traditional architecture is preferred across all demographics, including sex, age, geographic region, household income, education, race and ethnicity, and political party affiliations.
Elected Democrats and the architects they hire, however, don’t care what the people want. Democrat politicians have vehemently opposed any attempts by Republicans to make federal buildings beautiful, introducing legislation to oppose Trump’s executive order. And the American Institute of Architects (AIA) publicly condemned the order, sending more than 11,400 letters to the White House demanding they be allowed to design hideous buildings. “Mandating any single design style will undermine the value of the very architectural style it seeks to promote,” AIA 2020 president Jane Frederick said in a statement at the time.
However, neither Trump’s executive order nor Rubio’s new bill prohibits certain design styles. Instead, it would make classical and traditional the preferred architectural style, reversing the General Services Administration’s decision that made modernism the preferred style.
Research suggests not only that people prefer beautiful buildings, but that classical architecture also makes people happier. Historically, however, we haven’t needed studies to know that. When the Department of the Treasury, which used to oversee federal architecture, established the supremacy of classical architecture in 1901, it issued a statement that read, “The experience of centuries has demonstrated that no form of architecture is so pleasing to the great mass of mankind as the classic, or some modified form of the classic.”
“Art is always the index of social vitality,” said English philosopher and art historian Herbert Read. Indeed, thriving and happy individuals don’t create depressing and unsightly buildings, which says a thing or two about Democrat politicians and the AIA. Fortunately, if Rubio’s bill passes, we may no longer be subjected to their misery and poor taste.