White House Press Release: Executive Order on Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture, December 21, 2020

This is one of the most beautiful documents from the government that I have ever read. I grew up in Houston during the 1960’s. We were “Space City”. Houston was noted for the Astrodome. I grew up in ugly architecture. Never could I figure why someone wanted to build a corporate or government office that was a 40 story sheet of plain glass.

In the 90’s, I lived in Chicago – now that is architecture: Wriggly Building, University of Chicago, Water Tower, Pump Room, Drake Hotel, Chicago Board of Trade, Palmer House. But even Chicago got caught up in ugly architecture; for instance, John Hancock Tower, Sears Tower, The former Amoco Building, Kluczynski Federal Building. The famous Chicago Picasso is an eyesore.

I only read half of this press release but it is pretty good. Added below is a link to the entire release.

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Purpose. Societies have long recognized the importance of beautiful public architecture. Ancient Greek and Roman public buildings were designed to be sturdy and useful, and also to beautify public spaces and inspire civic pride. Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, public architecture continued to serve these purposes. The 1309 constitution of the City of Siena required that “[w]hoever rules the City must have the beauty of the City as his foremost preoccupation . . . because it must provide pride, honor, wealth, and growth to the Sienese citizens, as well as pleasure and happiness to visitors from abroad.” Three centuries later, the great British Architect Sir Christopher Wren declared that “public buildings [are] the ornament of a country. [Architecture] establishes a Nation, draws people and commerce, makes the people love their native country . . . Architecture aims at eternity[]”

Notable Founding Fathers agreed with these assessments and attached great importance to Federal civic architecture. They wanted America’s public buildings to inspire the American people and encourage civic virtue. President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson consciously modeled the most important buildings in Washington, D.C., on the classical architecture of ancient Athens and Rome. They sought to use classical architecture to visually connect our contemporary Republic with the antecedents of democracy in classical antiquity, reminding citizens not only of their rights but also their responsibilities in maintaining and perpetuating its institutions.


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