US Government Goes After Green Modern Design, Will Make Architecture Classical Again

CC BY 2.0. A classical design for a new government building/ Wikipedia

They will also likely offer a new definition of 'sustainable design'.

In Europe, doing new buildings in a classical style brings back certain memories. That might be one reason that almost all new buildings on the continent are modern (thanks to Prince Charles, things are different in the UK), and there are even controversial EU guidelines for renovations and additions that recommend that “when new parts/elements are necessary, a project shall use contemporary design adding new value and/or use while respecting the existing ones.”

Now, the American government wants to do the opposite of the EU, proposing an order that would mandate classical design. Cathleen McGuigan of the Architectural Record writes:

Entitled “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” the draft order argues that the founding fathers embraced the classical models of “democratic Athens” and “republican Rome” for the capital’s early buildings because the style symbolized the new nation’s “self-governing ideals” (never mind, of course, that it was the prevailing style of the day).

Whereas Daniel Patrick Moynihan laid out guidelines for federal architecture in 1962 stating that “an official style must be avoided” and “design must flow from the architectural profession to the government and not vice versa,” the current administration will establish the President’s Committee for the Re-Beautification of Federal Architecture, to ensure that architecture conforms to the appropriate classical styles.

According to the National Civic Art Society's chairman Marion Smith, this is What The People Want, as quoted in the New York Times:

For too long architectural elites and bureaucrats have derided the idea of beauty, blatantly ignored public opinions on style, and have quietly spent taxpayer money constructing ugly, expensive, and inefficient buildings. This executive order gives voice to the 99 percent — the ordinary American people who do not like what our government has been building.
San Franciso Federal Building

San Franciso Federal Building/ Eric in SF on Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

What the government has been building was supposed to be greener, more sustainable buildings. As an example of what the government wants to avoid, they point to the US Federal Building in San Francisco, designed by Morphosis. They think it's ugly; there is no mention about how it was designed "with the climate in mind with big opening windows to the exterior; shading and bris de soliel to the south; shallow working areas to maximize exposure to natural light." James Russell described it, quoted in TreeHugger:

While the federal building imports technologies and concepts developed in Europe more than a decade ago, it's revolutionary by U.S. standards -- and far ahead of the low-ambition 'greening' prevalent in the private sector that touts bamboo flooring as an eco-credential. The G.S.A., Mayne and Arup have shown that U.S. buildings can set a much higher standard for workplace quality at considerably lower cost to the environment.

This building was designed in accordance with that radical leftist President George W. Bush's executive order, which set "goals in the areas of energy efficiency, acquisition, renewable energy, toxics reductions, recycling, renewable energy, sustainable buildings, electronics stewardship, fleets, and water conservation."

But according to Catesby Leigh, writing in an article that many think is influential among the fans of traditional architecture, sustainability is the wrong target.

For the GSA, sustainability is not just a matter of dollars and cents or government mandates. As it is for the architectural establishment as a whole, sustainability is a religion. But the agency’s efforts to incorporate innovative green technologies into its buildings have not always worked out. More important, the most sustainable structures aren’t those that boast displacement ventilation, evaporative cooling, or photovoltaic cell–encrusted roofs that do double duty by harvesting rainwater to service toilets that gulp rather than flush. The most sustainable buildings will stand for a very long time because they are well built and because their design reflects enduring human preferences rather than stylistic fads.

In other words, build in classic styles to last a thousand years; all that green gizmo stuff is just a passing fad.

Note: The American Institute of Architects has come out strongly against this policy, writing:

The AIA strongly condemns the move to enforce a top-down directive on architectural style. Design decisions should be left to the designer and the community, not bureaucrats in Washington, DC. All architectural styles have value and all communities have the right to weigh in on the government buildings meant to serve them.