In response to the news of an executive order under consideration by the Trump administration dictating that “the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style” for Federal projects, the Architecture Lobby is stating its unambiguous opposition to the attempt to enshrine architectural classicism as a national style.
Seizing on architectural styles is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. The particular appeal to classical architecture often uses the nostalgic appropriation of style by fictionalizing national heritage and manufacturing an ideal subject to marginalize and other, while simultaneously claiming moral superiority. The Lobby wants to draw attention to the larger ideological implications of this executive order, which go beyond a conservative approach to style or limitations to freedom of expression. Neoclassicism in the US is directly related to the construction of whiteness. It was whiteness that was sought after in the many plantation houses that chose the style, justifying it as an emulation of ancient Greek “culture” to separate themselves from the Indigenous peoples whose land was stolen and the enslaved African people forced to build and work in them. Thomas Jefferson’s excitement with the work of the Beaux Arts school in Paris was motivated by a desire to make America “European,” and white. In Europe, well-known totalitarian regimes — Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union — infamously dictated the use of the classical style. This is not coincidental. The need to limit architectural style is motivated by a fear of the people and populist expression. The administration’s chosen style glorifies an imperialist, colonialist, and white supremacist past.
Privileging historicist architecture is a common tool of the capitalist class in the United States as well. At a local level, this tactic is used in planning codes and homeowners associations to favor eurocentric aesthetics under the guise of human-centric design, but whose true purpose is to continue the legacy of red-lining by preventing the densification and diversification of neighborhoods. The ultimate goal is to inflate property values and maintain the racial and class segregation of our cities, to create an environment for capital to continue the destruction of communities through gentrification. The “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” executive order is a reformulation of these local aesthetic strictures at a national level and a blatant attempt to leverage aesthetics in the service of white supremacy.
The Architecture Lobby calls for all architects to stand against not only this executive order but every instance of oppression and marginalization through the control of architectural aesthetics. Organizing is our answer to how we fight back against unjust abuses of power. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or @Arch_Lobby on Twitter for information regarding your local Architecture Lobby chapter. In the meantime, you can contact the President directly to express your dissent.
The Members of the Architecture Lobby