I am Justin Shubow

President of the National Civic Art Society, a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. that promotes the classical and humanistic tradition in public art and architecture. Eleventh Chairman of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, an independent federal agency comprising seven presidential appointees who are the aesthetic guardians of Washington.

Discussing Federal Architecture Legislation on First Things Magazine’s Podcast


First Things magazine’s July 17, 2023 podcast featured an interview of me by senior editor Mark Bauerlein in which we discussed legislation pending in the U.S. House and Senate that would dramatically re-orient federal architecture from modernism to classical and traditional design. The bills would require that public input be given substantial weight when the government makes design decisions.

You can listen to the podcast HERE.

Relatedly, Politico interviewed me about the aforementioned legislation. To quote the article:

The growth of government in the decades after World War II happened to take place during one of the most maligned periods in public architecture. Like college campuses, government properties have been among the modernist era’s most conspicuous offenders, perhaps because the people commissioning the buildings were not the ones who would have to live or work in them. When it’s their own private home or business, people tend to be much less deferential to the artistes drawing up the blueprints.

In Shubow’s telling, that deference is the problem — baked right into the 1962 [Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture] his rivals want to enshrine in law. “Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government,” it declares, “and not vice versa.” Rather than a gesture of support for creativity, he says, the language essentially orders public servants to abandon their duty of keeping an eye on the contractors. (He notes that the AIA, which has blasted the GOP bill in the name of free expression, isn’t quite a dispassionate academic group: It’s a trade association for architects, i.e. those very same contractors.) …

Shubow takes satisfaction in a 
June report from the Government Accountability Office that advises the GSA to formally require and incorporate community input on building designs — a byproduct, he says, of the attention given to Trump’s classical-architecture orders.

It’s a recommendation that’s going to be hard for anyone in politics to criticize, no matter what their opinions on au courant architecture. For elected officials, it may feel un-American to legislate a default national style — but it would seem downright suicidal to openly tell the general public that their views don’t count.

Posted in federal architecture, federal architecture legislation, Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture | Leave a comment

Debating Whether Washington, D.C. Should Raise Its Height Limit

Since 1910, the maximum height of buildings in Washington, D.C. has been greatly limited by federal law. On April 2, 2023, the National Civic Art Society (which I run) and Congress for the New Urbanism sponsored a debate over whether D.C.’s height limit should be raised.

I argued for the negative along with Brian O’Looney, Partner at Torti + Gallas. Arguing for the positive were Ellen McCarthy, Partner at The Urban Partnership, and Harriet Tregoning, Director of the New Urban Mobility Alliance. Both McCarthy and Tregoning are former Directors of the D.C. Office of Planning.

The moderator was Matt Bell, Professor of Architecture at the University of Maryland and Principal at Perkins Eastman.

You can watch the video HERE.

Posted in building height limits, National Civic Art Society, public talks, Washington, D.C. | Leave a comment

Video of My Talk at AEI Regarding the Draft Executive Order on Federal Architecture

On October 19, 2020, I participated in a panel hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) regarding the draft Executive Order regarding federal architecture. To adapt AEI’s summary of the event:

AEI’s Gary J. Schmitt noted that Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s nearly 60-year-old “Guiding Principles” still govern federal architecture and that we are long overdue for a reassessment. Justin Shubow of the National Civic Art Society called for re-orienting federal architecture in a classical and traditional direction, noting public support of classical architecture. He emphasized modernism’s stylistic chaos that has failed to produce classicism’s beauty or symbolism. University of Notre Dame’s Michael Lykoudis expressed skepticism about mandating classicism by government fiat, whereas past cultures depended on public consensus, craft, and building expertise.

University of Notre Dame’s Philip Bess pointed out philosophical, anthropological, and constructional errors that have made modern architecture a failure. Mandating classical architecture would not only be philosophically right but also produce more durable and useful buildings. However, Williams College’s Michael J. Lewis warned that the quality of government-mandated classical architecture around the world has often been poor, but he hoped enlightened patronage could reinvigorate classicism as an architectural language.

Panelists also addressed the role of presidents in architectural decisions, improvements to the executive order, and historical analogies to a possible classical revival.

Posted in American Enterprise Institute, civic architecture, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, federal architecture, Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture, National Civic Art Society, uncategorized | Leave a comment

Athenaeum Review Podcast Interview of Me: Modernism, Classicism, and the Built Environment

The Athenaeum Review recently published an hour-long podcast interview of me. Here is the description:

In this episode, we talk with Justin Shubow, President of the National Civic Art Society, about modernism and classicism, the profession of architecture and its role in civil society, public monuments in Washington, D.C., the philosopher Michael Oakeshott, and much more.

In Part One:

On the Eisenhower Memorial, and the role of the General Services Administration in Federal patronage of architecture, for example the Salt Lake City courthouse (2:00) — Is it affordable to build classically today? (8:00) — Can classicism be creative and innovative? (10:30) — Starchitects and expressionism (14:00) — Modernists against classicism: Harvard’s Joseph Hudnut critiques John Russell Pope’s Jefferson Memorial (17:00) — Philosophy, the Zeitgeist and architecture (19:30) — Roger Scruton, the vernacular and architecture (21:30) — Is there anything to learn from Las Vegas vernacular architecture? (25:00)

Listen to Part 1.

In Part Two:

What are the institutional prospects for architectural classicism in America? (2:00) — Are modernism and classicism simply culturally relative phenomena, or can they somehow transcend their place and time? (7:30) — The virtues of the Chrysler Building and Art Deco, the last of the classical styles (13:00) — Classical architecture today: David M. SchwarzRobert A. M. SternAllan GreenbergRoman and Williams (15:00) — On Michael Oakeshott, rationalism and architecture (17:30) — Oakeshott’s political philosophy (23:00) — On philosophy and men’s clothing (26:30) — Joseph Shubow, and the beginnings of an interest in architecture and design (31:15)

Listen to Part 2.

Posted in Eisenhower Memorial, federal architecture, General Services Administration, Jefferson Memorial, menswear, Michael Oakeshott, Rabbi Joseph Shubow, Roger Scruton | Leave a comment

Speaking at AEI About the Executive Order on Federal Architecture – Oct. 19

Salt Lake City Federal Courthouse, opened 2014

In February, NPR and other news outlets reported on a leaked draft of an Executive Order titled “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.” According to those reports, President Trump is considering signing the Order, which would re-orient federal architecture in a classical and traditional direction. At present, federal architecture is almost entirely Modernist and post-modernist in design. The draft order states:

“Architectural styles–with special regard for the classical architectural style–that value beauty, respect regional architectural heritage, and command admiration by the public are the preferred styles” for federal buildings and courthouses costing more than $50 million. The Order also requires that all new federal buildings in the nation’s capital be classical.

On Monday, October 19 from 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM ET, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) will be hosting a web event on “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again: The Debate Over the Future of Federal Architecture.”

The speakers are:

Philip Bess, Professor, University of Notre Dame
Michael J. Lewis, Faison-Pierson-Stoddard Professor of Art History, Williams College
Michael Lykoudis, Professor, University of Notre Dame
Justin Shubow, President, National Civic Art Society

The event, which includes audience Q&A, will stream live HERE. You can also RSVP.

Posted in architecture, civic architecture, federal architecture | Leave a comment

Joining the Board of Advisors of the Roger Scruton Legacy Foundation

Roger Scruton speaking at a National Civic Art Society panel on “Beauty and the Human Habitat” at the Phillips Collection in May 2015

I’m pleased to report that I’ve joined the Board of Advisors of the new Roger Scruton Legacy Foundation, which honors the work of the eponymous British philosopher, critic, and author who served on the National Civic Art Society’s Board of Advisors, and who passed away in 2020. In 2018, Scruton was appointed chairman of the UK government’s new Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, which was established to promote better design of homes and living spaces. In a speech regarding his role on the commission, he said, “Aesthetic values are not arbitrary adjuncts to our intellectual equipment; they are our one sure defence against vandalism, and our way of resisting the forces that are destroying our city centres, and drowning us in junk.”

A brilliant, erudite defender of classical architecture and art, and an advocate for the preeminent role of beauty in human life, Scruton’s work on aesthetics and architecture is some of the very best of its kind. Indeed, he was the greatest philosopher of architecture of his time. A fierce opponent of Modernism, he also distinguished himself by his TV documentary essay “Why Beauty Matters.”

Scruton’s published works include The Classical Vernacular: Architectural Principles in an Age of NihilismThe Aesthetics of Architecture, and Beauty: A Very Short Introduction.

Posted in architecture, beauty, classicism, Modernism, National Civic Art Society, Roger Scruton | Leave a comment

Academic Article on the Eisenhower Memorial Controversy

Patrick Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in History and American Studies at Lancaster University, published a well-researched, peer-reviewed article, “From a ‘New Paradigm’ to ‘Memorial Sprawl’: The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Memorial,” about the making of the National Eisenhower Memorial. (PDF here) It appears in the book Constructing Presidential Legacy: How We Remember the American President (Edinburgh University Press). Hagopian discussed my role in the controversy:

Congressional leaders, conservative journalists, and others picked up on the cues coming from Eisenhower family members [in opposition to Frank Gehry’s design] and from a damning report Shubow had issued. . . .

Members of Congress borrowed a line of attack first mounted by Shubow, citing the need for a verbal explanation of the symbolic meaning of the tapestries. How, he asked, was anyone supposed to know that the trees depicted in the mesh represented the landscape of the Midwest? It could be anywhere, Kansas or Kazakhstan. “Monuments,” Shubow said, “ought to be clear and unequivocal in their meaning . . . . They must be legible without a guide or key, and certainly without a visitor center or iPad. Monuments speak to us even without signage.” Legislators critical of the Gehry design extensively quoted Shubow’s words. They said the memorial “should be self-explanatory so that ordinary Americans will understand the ideas being conveyed without the need of a visitor center or guide.”

Posted in Eisenhower Memorial, Frank Gehry, Patrick Hagopian, uncategorized | Leave a comment

Speaking at the Dallas Museum of Art on October 10

On October 10, 2019, I’ll be giving a public talk at the Dallas Museum of Art titled “Building Dystopia: What Went Wrong in Modern Architecture.” The free event, which starts at 4:00 pm, is sponsored by the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History at the University of Texas at Dallas. The talk will be followed by a reception. For more information, click here

Posted in architecture, Modernism, public talks, uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Celebration of Bruce Cole and His Book “Art from the Swamp”

The National Civic Art Society, along with the Ethics and Public Policy Center and Encounter Books, co-sponsored a panel discussion in celebration of Bruce Cole and his posthumously published book Art from the Swamp: How Washington Bureaucrats Squander Millions on Awful Art. Cole was chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities from 2001 to 2009, and he was a member of NCAS’s Board of Advisors.

In my talk, I discussed the disaster of the Eisenhower Memorial.

Panelists: Roger Kimball, publisher of Encounter Books and editor of The New Criterion
Catesby Leigh, National Civic Art Society Research Fellow
Justin Shubow, President of the National Civic Art Society

Moderator: Ed Whelan, President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center

Date: January 14, 2019
Location: Cosmos Club, Washington, D.C.

Posted in Bruce Cole, Catesby Leigh, civic architecture, Eisenhower Memorial, National Civic Art Society, Roger Kimball | Leave a comment