Make Architecture Classical Again

Matthew Gilmore's picture

Make Architecture Classical Again


Catesby Leigh

February 7, 2020 

Arts and Culture

Classical federal buildings rank among the most revered structures in the United States, starting with the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and Supreme Court, all in Washington. These buildings have shaped the federal image in the national consciousness, and indeed the world’s, while U.S. courthouses and their classical porticos have dignified public squares in countless American towns and cities. After World War II, however, and especially after promulgation of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture in 1962, the rate of aesthetic return on Uncle Sam’s architectural patronage cratered. Moynihan’s principles enabled modernism to deprive our federal buildings of stylistic coherence and aesthetic resonance. They ceased to speak to the aspirations of ordinary citizens.

The ongoing dysfunction has lots of support, though, including from the overwhelmingly modernist American Institute of Architects. So it comes as no surprise that leaks of a draft of a presidential executive order that would designate the classical and other traditional architectural idioms as “preferred” styles for federal courthouses, agency headquarters, and other federal office buildings, has caused an uproar in the modernist-dominated architectural community. That reaction should be regarded as a sign that the draft is on the right track.