Statement on Proposed Executive Order on Classical Design for Federal Buildings

The following was approved by the SCS board of directors on February 7, 2020.

The Society for Classical Studies joins the Society of Architectural Historians in opposing the proposed Executive Order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.”  As students and scholars of the ancient Greco-Roman world and its ongoing cultural impact, we recognize that classical antiquity provided some of the many traditions that have shaped this nation, and we appreciate the examples of neo-classical architecture, both public and private, to be found throughout the United States.  But we firmly believe that the architectural style of public buildings should not be dictated in advance, but rather freely and deliberately chosen in view of all relevant considerations, and we reject the supposition that a style derived from classical models is necessarily better suited than any other to express the history, values, and aspirations of the American people.

Please see the letter below from the Society of Architectural Historians and a number of other scholarly societies, including SCS.

February 10, 2020

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Re: Opposition to proposed Executive Order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again”

Dear Mr. President,

The Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) expresses strong opposition to the proposed Executive Order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.”

SAH is the principal scholarly organization for architectural historians worldwide.  Its members represent a broad spectrum of academic and professional specialties, with membership spanning the globe.  Our membership strongly opposes the language in the proposed Executive Order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.”  We share the concern expressed by the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the academic associations listed below that have made common cause with us by signing this letter.

As an organization whose members have observed, recorded, and analyzed both historic and contemporary architecture since our inception in 1940, we have come to understand that most significant public architecture in the United States has resulted from the intersection of monumentality, permanence, and aesthetic significance and the specific local demands of site and community.  While we appreciate and encourage the attention paid to new federal courthouses, federal public buildings in the national Capitol region, and all federal buildings in the U.S. with budgets in excess of $50 million, we nonetheless remain convinced that the dictation of style – any style – is not the path to excellence in civic architecture. 

Democratic by Design:  Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture (1962), concluded, “Major emphasis should be placed on the choice of designs that embody the finest contemporary American architectural thought…Design must flow from the architectural professional to the Government, not vice versa.”   An important but often overlooked precept of Democratic by Design was the emphasis on “contemporary American architectural thought,” not necessarily contemporary design.  It encouraged both architectural practitioners and government officials to look for ways to express the ideals of American democracy in architectural form by looking to voices of the American public, rather than the amplification of a federal dictate from on high. 

The influence of Democratic by Design has been enduring and wide reaching.  This initiative has led to the design of several landmarks of American architecture, including the U.S. Tax Court Building in Washington, DC.  That courthouse was described by architecture critic Ada Louis Huxtable as “a progressive, sensitive contemporary solution fully responsive to Washington’s classical tradition and yet fully part of the mid-20th century—a period of exceptional vigor and beauty in the history of structure and design.”   A more recent example of this influence is the Oklahoma City Federal Building that replaced the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, destroyed by a domestic terrorist bombing in 1995.  In her Oklahoma City Journal Record piece describing the design of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, architect Carol Ross Barney’s statement echoed the enduring significance of Democratic by Design: “Obviously, the best thing to make it bomb-resistant was to make it hard, make it concrete.  But that’s the wrong message.  The message is that government has to be open.” 

A robust return to the principles of Democratic by Design would result in federal architecture that is monumental, permanent, and beautiful. This would be achieved by listening to the voices of the American public, placing emphasis on the communities in which these new buildings are to be located, and stressing the General Services Administration’s role in insuring that this diversity of voices is heard.  Instead of proscribing a particular stylistic outcome, such a path would instead promote architectural excellence, and a thoughtful fit between new federal architecture and the communities in which these buildings are to be constructed. 

While SAH opposes the language of proposed Executive Order “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” we strongly support a renewed effort to encourage the design and construction of federal buildings that embrace architectural excellence based on the best architectural thinking and technology available. America’s best can be embodied in an architectural expression that is monumental, permanent, community-centered, and beautiful.

Respectfully submitted,

Society of Architectural Historians

Middle East Studies Association

National Council on Public History

Organization of American Historians

Society for Classical Studies

(You can view the above letter on the SAH website at https://www.sah.org/about-sah/news/sah-news/news-detail/2020/02/06/society-of-architectural-historians-letter-in-opposition-to-proposed-executive-order-making-federal-buildings-beautiful-again)


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The Department of Latin Literature at the University of Basel, Switzerland is pleased to invite applications for the first round of the Basel Fellowships in Latin Literature. This visiting fellowship programme offers an opportunity for early career researchers as well as established scholars to pursue their research in the framework of a fully funded visit of up to three months at the Department Altertumswissenschaften of the University of Basel. During their stay, Visiting Fellows are entitled to make full use of the excellent resources of the University Library as well as the departmental library, Bibliothek Altertumswissenschaften, one of the world’s leading research libraries for the study of Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations and Classics.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Tue, 12/17/2019 - 9:38am by Erik Shell.

The 2020 Annual Meeting is just three weeks away.  Both the AIA and SCS are making final arrangements for what we anticipate will be an excellent meeting.  While our registration numbers for the upcoming meeting are looking good, reservations at the hotels are not looking as strong.  While we understand that some attendees will opt to stay with local friends or find a less-expensive accommodation, we rely on hotel reservations to secure the meeting space each year.

Why is it important to book at our official Annual Meeting Hotels?
The AIA and SCS are proud to have produced the Annual Meeting for our professional members for the past 120 years. Financially, we are able to do this by reserving a large block of rooms with a hotel. In exchange, these hotels offer our attendees the guaranteed lowest group rate at the hotel and provide us with complimentary meeting space to hold the meeting. But if we are unable to meet our guaranteed minimum number of registered guests, then the AIA and SCS will have to pay for the unused rooms as well as room rental for the meeting space, which can amount to a severe financial penalty. We request your support by booking within our reserved blocks and helping us continue to produce this meeting for the next 100 years.  

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 12/13/2019 - 3:19pm by Erik Shell.

Our first interview in the Women in Classics series is with Sarah B. Pomeroy, Distinguished Professor of Classics and History, Emerita, at Hunter College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York. She was born in New York City and earned her B.A. from Barnard College in 1957. She received her M.A. in 1959 and her Ph.D. in 1961, both from Columbia University. Pomeroy has been recognized as a leading authority on ancient Greek and Roman women since her book Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity was first published in 1975. Her other publications include Xenophon, Oeconomicus: A Social and Historical Commentary (1994), Families in Classical and Hellenistic Greece: Representations and Realities (1998), Spartan Women (2002), and, with Stanley M.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 12/12/2019 - 3:45pm by Claire Catenaccio.

International Association for Presocratic Studies
Seventh Biennial Conference: 15-19 July 2020

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 12/11/2019 - 1:47pm by Erik Shell.

The Lego Classicists project is more than child’s play. Recreating classics scholars in Lego bricks crosses the boundaries between pop-art and ancient history, focusing attention on the work of ancient world scholars in an environment of celebration, connection and inclusion.

Although it began almost by accident, Lego Classicists is being embraced by some of the world’s leading classics and ancient world scholars, including Dame Mary Beard. On 20th February 2019, the third annual International Lego Classicism Day also attracted participants from across the world: Cambridge University’s CREWS Project; academic and broadcaster, Michael Scott; the Director of the British School at Athens, John Bennet; staff at Stellembosch University, South Africa; the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney; the Ure Museum; Reading University; and conservators at the British Museum.



Figure 1: Dr. Duygu Camurcuoglou from the British Museum with a Lego mini-fig of herself.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 12/05/2019 - 11:42pm by .

Joseph O’Neill and Adam Rigoni of Arizona State University are seeking abstracts from a diverse group of scholars and artists that represent multidisciplinary, multicultural redeployments of the Aeneid. We do not propose examining the Aeneid as a decidedly Roman text. Nor do we propose an examination of a cultural artifact. Rather, we seek to present a volume that deploys the Aeneid anew, one that not only reflects the Aeneid’s status as a ‘modern story’, but one that inserts the Aeneid into contemporary discourse. We understand ‘contemporary’ and ‘modern’ rather broadly—essays need not be limited strictly to the new millennium.

Possible topics include:

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 12/04/2019 - 10:28am by Erik Shell.

New to being an Affiliated Group this year, the Multiculturalism, Race & Ethnicity in Classics Consortium will be meeting at this year's annual meeting.

This meeting will take place on Saturday, January 4th, from 9:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. in the Marquis Ballroom Salon 13.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 12/04/2019 - 10:19am by Erik Shell.

(Text provided by Tony Woodman, Basil L. Gildersleeve Professor of Classics Emertius at the University of Virginia, and Sara Myers, Professor and Chair of Classics, UVA)

Edward Courtney, Basil L. Gildersleeve Professor of Classics Emeritus at the University of Virginia, passed away peacefully on 24 November 2019. He was born in 1932 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and retained his Belfast accent throughout his life. After an outstanding career as an undergraduate at Trinity College, Dublin, where he won medals for his translations into Greek and Latin verse, he was a Research Lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford, before being appointed in 1959 to a Lectureship at King’s College, London, eventually being promoted to Professor. In 1982 he and his family emigrated to the United States, where he was Ely Professor of Classics at Stanford University; but, when the Gildersleeve Chair of Classics was inaugurated at the University of Virginia, Ted became its first holder in 1993, retiring in 2002.

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Tue, 12/03/2019 - 2:54pm by Erik Shell.

Many thanks to our Local Arrangements Committee for creating a fantastic guide to the DC area for our January 2020 meeting. The guide features plenty of family-friendly activities and also includes walking tours of classical DC. 

Read and download the Local Arrangements Guide for 2020.

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(Photo: "_DSC7061" by rhodesj, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Sat, 11/30/2019 - 7:13am by Helen Cullyer.

Precollegiate Teaching Award

College Teaching Award

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Sat, 11/30/2019 - 7:10am by Helen Cullyer.

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