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.