Until recently, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts had a steep preference – which an executive order codified in late 2020 – for neoclassical style. As the group overseeing all U.S. design and initiatives, from buildings to commemorative coins, this preference had a wide-ranging effect.
With four commission members removed and the order rescinded, neo-classical architecture is no longer the default building style for new federal courthouses and other federal buildings. These changes may represent a benefit to those working on federal construction and renovation projects across the country.
What is neoclassical architecture and why was it required?
Neo-classical architecture is the design aesthetic most often thought of when we think of Greco-Roman design:
- Staid marble statuary
- Giant ionic columns
- Cathedral ceilings.
Examples of the neoclassical style include the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. and other buildings easy to find in Houston. It is a beautiful, memorable style and, according to NPR, that is why it was emphasized in recent years.
Limited styles mean limited solutions
When the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts required new builds and updates conform to neoclassical design sensibilities, it created difficulties for the government’s contractors. While undoubtedly breathtaking, the older design features are expensive to source and complicated to update. They lack energy efficiency and, in many cases, do not meet the needs of the current marketplace.
The interaction of design and the law
It is a perplexing problem when your design requirements starkly oppose the practical needs of the project. Overly ambitious design choices, especially later in a project, may create legal difficulties, such as:
- Violation of local safety ordinances
- Renegotiation of supplier contracts
- New needs for zoning variances
Frequently changing designs have a way of costing projects time and money. However, when the design demands come directly from the customer, often there is little choice but to move forward.