Far from being dictatorial, the order is profoundly liberating for clients, architects, and public alike.
In 1962, the man who was to become famous as Senator Daniel P. Moynihan wrote his “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture.” These mandated that “major emphasis should be placed on the choice of designs that embody the finest contemporary American architectural thought,” and that “Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government and not vice versa.” What this goes to show is that very clever men may say some very foolish things, that are all the more dangerous because clever men are influential.
In effect, what the guiding principles did was to make the client the servant of the supplier, and the supplier the sole judge in his own cause. This, perhaps, would not have been so disastrous had the architectural profession been led by figures such as Brunelleschi or Christopher Wren, but it was not. Rather, it had long been hijacked almost entirely by ambitious followers and apostolic successors to the totalitarian modernists such as Le Corbusier who wanted to legislate architecture for the entire world—and succeeded in doing so to a remarkable, and horrible, extent, as a tour of world capitals will quickly and depressingly establish.
The squeals of outrage by the architectural profession at President Trump’s proposed executive order, Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again, were entirely predictable. The order—if promulgated—makes the classical style the default for new federal buildings in Washington, together with a preference for classical and other traditional styles elsewhere.
Theodore Dalrymple is a contributing editor of City Journal, the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of many books, including Out into the Beautiful World and the recently published False Positive: A Year of Error Omission, and Political Correctness in the New England Journal of Medicine (Encounter Books).
Photo: William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building (Wikimedia Commons)