Biden's unprecedented purge of federal advisory boards accelerates as he moves to ensure new federal buildings will be ugly modernist monstrosities
The Biden administration wants to force taxpayers to continue to pay for ugly, unpopular federal buildings and is resorting to possibly illegal demands for resignations-or-be-fired from a federal advisory board more than a century old.
harshly criticized modern architectural styles and instead lauded Roman-Greco-inspired buildings. But while it criticized modern and brutalist buildings, it did not mandate that any future works be Greek or neoclassical in design.
"Classical and other traditional architecture, as practiced both historically and by today's architects, have proven their ability to meet these design criteria and to more than satisfy today's functional, technical, and sustainable needs," the order said. "Their use should be encouraged instead of discouraged."
Yesterday, the Biden administration notified four Trump-appointed members of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts that they must resign by the end of the business day or be terminated, despite the fact that there is no provision for firing members who are appointed to four-year terms. Bloomberg reports:
The White House asked for the resignations on Monday of several members of the federal agency that reviews design and aesthetic decisions for buildings in the city of Washington, D.C., including its chairman, according to the now-former chair, Justin Shubow.
Note: Shubow has refused to resign, so calling him "now-former" seems to be premature.
Shubow, a classical architecture advocate and president of the nonprofit National Civic Art Society, has served on the commission since 2018. Shubow and the other commissioners who were asked to leave — sculptor Chas Fagan, landscape architect Perry Guillot and architect Steven Spandle — were appointed by President Donald Trump, as were the three remaining commissioners, designer and developer Rodney Mims Cook, Jr., architect James C. McCrery, II, and architect Duncan G. Stroik.
"In the commission's 110-year history, no president has ever removed a commissioner," says Shubow, a claim that could not be immediately verified. "It sets a terrible precedent to remove any of us and represents a politicization of a body that has been apolitical."
Elizabeth Blair reports for NPR on the replacements:
The four intended appointees are meant to replace four commissioners who had been installed by former President Donald Trump, and who helped shape a controversial executive order intended to promote neoclassical architecture as the official style for federal buildings in Washington and at new federal courthouses elsewhere.
A White House official told NPR: "President Biden is proud to nominate this extremely qualified and well-respected group of professionals to the Commission on Fine Arts. They will bring to the commission a diversity of background and experience, as well as a range of aesthetic viewpoints."
The four are Peter Cook, a principal at HGA Architects whose past projects include the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture; Hazel Ruth Edwards, a professor and chair of Howard University's Department of Architecture; Justin Garrett Moore, the inaugural program officer of the Humanities in Place program at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and Billie Tsien, a partner at Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, whose firm designed the Barack Obama Presidential Center[.]
The termination notices repeated the wording of an earlier demand for the resignation of Michael Savage from the advisory board for the Presidio Trust in San Francisco. The Savage purge may be purely personal, based on his conservative politics and friendship with President Trump, or may, as Savage suspects, be related to his proposal:
[T]o keep a salute to God and the military at the former military post. God & the Soldier at the Presidio was my most recent suggested exhibit and may have triggered the purge[.]
The Commission on Fine Arts purge appears to be motivated purely on policy grounds — namely, the protection of the modernist architecture and the rejection of neoclassical architecture that was for almost two centuries the standard for federal buildings, such as the White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court — the trademark headquarters of all three branches of government.
In place of the symmetry, balance, and pleasuring proportions of
Biden is clearing the way for more hideous buildings like the new San Francisco federal office building, one of the examples of ugly federal buildings cited in Trump's executive order:
Driving into San Francisco from the airport, as the U.S. 101 freeway rounds a curve and the city's skyline comes into view, this building leaps out, its ugly color unique and its forbidding asymmetrical façade jarring the visitor. I utterly detest it every time I lay eyes on it.
The Architect's Newspaper reports on the response of the purged chairman.
[Justin] Shubow shared a copy of the letter with AN as well as a statement in reaction to it, pointing out the unprecedented nature of the move:
"In the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts' 110-year history, no President has removed a single commissioner — let alone a majority of the commission, and let alone the elected chairman. Were Biden to remove commissioners, it would set a terrible precedent by politicizing an apolitical, non-partisan body. All of the threatened commissioners are proponents of classical and traditional public art and architecture, and the White House's action clearly represents an attack on that sort of design, even though it is preferred by the vast majority of the American people. It is ironic that President Biden is a great admirer of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, yet FDR was a staunch proponent of classical architecture for Washington, D.C., which he called 'the loveliest city in the world.' It is my hope that this administration does not want to bring back the ugliness of Brutalism or any other dismal styles."
In his response to Russell, which Shubow also shared with AN, he wrote: "I respectfully decline your request to resign. I request an explanation of the legal basis and grounds of your extraordinary request and accompanying threat of termination."
"Lawfully appointed to a four-year term by the President in October 2018, I have served on the Commission honorably and well, and indeed was elected chairman by my fellow commissioners. I am a well-qualified judge of the fine arts who The New York Times and NPR called 'one of modern architecture's biggest critics.' I have not received a single complaint about my performance."
It also provides some background:
The CFA, which functions as an independent agency of the U.S. Government, was established in 1910 with architect Daniel Burnham serving as its first chair. Formed as an entity to protect the McMillian Plan, the Senate Park Commission-penned 1902 plan that created the National Mall and other D.C. landmarks within the monumental core, the contemporary CFA is tasked with the review of the "design and aesthetics" of all new construction within the capital. In its advisory role, it does not, however, have the authority to outright approve or reject construction projects.
The excuse apparently being used for the urge is race:
The current composition of the CFA is markedly less diverse in terms of non-male and non-white representation than it has been in the recent past (it is the first all-white commission in more than a decade) although Shubow, elected as chair in January, is the first Jewish person to hold that position. A new chair will be elected in the coming weeks.
The purge leaves an important gap in the expertise on the commission:
The removal of Guillot, however, does leave the commission with no landscape architects, a fact pointed out by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF). "Under the Obama Administration, the Commission of Fine Arts had three landscape architects as commissioners: Elizabeth Meyer, Liza Gilbert, and Mia Lehrer," said TCLF president and CEO Charles A. Birnbaum in a statement provided to AN. "None of the four proposed commissioners is a landscape architect, which is notable considering how much of the capital's unique and significant landscape legacy falls within its purview."
At least one member of the commission has already complied with the demand for his resignation. I do not know if Justin Shubow has the means to contest the actions in court, but if he does, perhaps he can make the argument that firing him for the sake of "diversity" constitutes discrimination against him on the basis of race.
One of the great triumphs of America's ruling elite is the successful imposition of ugly modernist architecture on a public that hates it.
The message from opinion polls, referendums and the housing market across Europe is that 70–90 % of the population prefers traditional architecture, if they are given a choice. ...
You will find the domination of modernism in sectors where decisions on design are made by bureaucracies, experts and committees[.] ... People in these positions are more likely to abandon their personal aesthetic preferences in favor of what is "accepted," "required" or "normal," and design that will give them praise from the architectural profession and the cultural media. Developers are told that a mixed-use block structure is not "modern" and "of our time," but mono-functional concrete slabs in a "park" setting are.
The roots of modernist architecture are leftist in orientation — a revolt against the values and traditions of the past — and a desire for social engineering. Two good books that cover this history are Tom Wolfe's From Bauhaus to Our House and Living Machines by E. Michael Jones, a book that Amazon refuses to sell.