The Architecture Lobby (TAL) has published a letter arguing against a proposed executive order from President Donald Trump that would mandate classical architectural stylings for America's federal buildings.
The group became the latest major architecture and built environment-related advocacy group to voice fierce opposition to the "Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again" initiative following in the footsteps of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) , the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH), and Docomomo US, and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).
As news of the potential executive order spread throughout the profession, the AIA also issued a pointed letter directly to President Trump arguing against the measure.
In their statement, TAL characterizes the proposed stylistic mandate as yet another sign of the current administration's penchant for mixing creeping authoritarianism with racial politics. The group writes that "Seizing on architectural styles is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes," while adding that "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."
The group adds, "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 statement goes further than those of other organizations, however, and extends the logic of the executive order to the practices and policies that shape our built environment, often to the exclusion or harm of minorities and people of color. TAL writes: "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 group adds finally, "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."