Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and these beholders can hardly agree on anything.
President Biden revoked former President Trump’s order that called for “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture.”
In deference to a bygone era, Trump signed an order that told architects to look to “America’s beloved landmark buildings” such as the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Department of the Treasury and the Lincoln Memorial for inspiration, and to avoid brutalist architecture that has sprung up since the 1950s.
Trump criticized more recent federal buildings as “undistinguished,” “uninspiring” and “just plain ugly.” The order uses the San Francisco Federal Building as an example, calling it “one of the ugliest structures in the city.”
The order was not strictly enforced, only expressing a preference for classic architecture. The specifics of Biden’s order are not entirely clear, but it does instruct the director of the Office of Management and Budget and any related agencies to “consider taking steps to rescind any orders, rules, regulations, guidelines or policies, or portions thereof, implementing or enforcing the presidential actions” that include the architecture order.
Biden’s order may put him at odds with the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts (CFA), an independent federal agency that advises lawmakers “on matters of design and aesthetics.”
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Justin Shubow, chairman of the CFA, defended Trump’s call to restore traditional architecture for federal buildings. “Our federal architecture has been dismal for decades and has been designed in modernist styles that do not represent what ordinary Americans actually want,” he told NPR.
He pointed to a poll from the National Civic Art Society, where he serves as president, that found: “72% of American adults prefer classical and traditional design for federal buildings. There were wide majorities for tradition across all demographic groups, including political party affiliation.”
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Biden at the same time Thursday reversed other Trump-era orders, including one that threatened to cut funding from “anarchist jurisdictions,” or cities that Trump felt did not support law enforcement as they were racked with racial injustice riots. He also tossed Trump’s halt on new visas amid the economic fallout from coronavirus.