Simanaitis Says

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IN 1961, PRESIDENT John F. Kennedy quoted Pericles to the Massachusetts legislature: “We do not imitate—for we are the models of others.” A year later, Daniel Patrick Moynihan cited this comment in Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture, a report commissioned by JFK.

As recently as February 26, 2019, the U.S. General Services Administration wrote, “Fifty years later, these directives still shape and form our mission in the Public Building Service and they have become the cornerstone of GSA’s Design Excellence Program. Senator Moynihan’s principles are both the standard to which we must elevate our efforts and the yardstick by which we must evaluate our work.”

Until now, and “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.”

I am not alone in sensing a certain MAGA ring to this pronouncement.

At the website of npr, February 13, 2020, Elizabeth Blair writes, “The architectural world is reeling over President Trump’s call for traditional designs for new Federal buildings. His proposed executive order… takes an out-with-the-new, in-with-the-old approach to architecture, calling modern federal buildings constructed over the last five decades ‘undistinguished,’ ‘uninspiring,’ and ‘just plain ugly.’ ”

Here are several examples of federal buildings for your consideration.

Federal Office Building, Seattle. According to Wikipedia, “One of the earliest federal buildings in the Art Deco style of architecture [built in 1932], the building’s design was a departure from the more traditional styes of Classic Revival and Beaux Arts Classicism and a step toward more modern architectural styles that were gaining popularity.”

Federal Office Building, Seattle. Image by Joe Mable, 2007.

Wikipedia notes, “The building uses substantial amounts of aluminum from smelters along the nearby Columbia River.” In its February 9, 2020, editorial “What’s So Great About Fake Roman Temples?”, The New York Times commented that salvaged timber planks were used in the building’s construction. In 1979, Seattle’s Federal Office Building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Reflecting Miami. As described by Arquitectonica, Miami’s Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr., Federal Courthouse “is a state-of-the-art, efficient, and cost-effective facility that reflects the dignity of the judicial process, while providing stringent security and meeting the requirements of the U.S. Courts Design Guidelines, the needs of the GSA, the judges, and the citizens of Miami.”

Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr., Federal Courthouse, Miami, Florida. Image by

Awards for the Miami courthouse designs have come from the AIA Academy of Architecture for Justice and the Society of American Registered Architects.

Reflecting Boston Harbor. The John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse is clad in water-struck brick with granite trim, with a curved facade of glass reflecting Boston Harbor. The courthouse has garnered awards from the U.S. General Services Administration (1997), the American Institute of Architects (1997 and 1999), and the National Endowment for the Arts (2000). Its laminated glass also received special commendation in 1999.

John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse, Boston, Massachusetts. Image by Beyond My Ken, 2017, as seen from Central Wharf.

As noted in Wikipedia, “The sub-basement houses an ice storage air conditioning system which uses half-price electricity at night to freeze water, which is then used to cool the courthouse during hot days. This saves an estimated $1.5 million per year and helps load-balance the regional electricity grid.”

An Official Style? At the Government Executive website, February 12, 2020, Kai Gutschow, Associate Professor of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University writes, “Federal building guidelines say that ‘development of an official style must be avoided’—which is exactly what a leaked executive order is trying to do.”

Milan’s Fascist Train Station. Milano Centrale, the largest railway station in Europe, was originally designed to resemble the Union Station in Washington, D.C. As described by Wikipedia, “…the project, rather simple at the beginning, kept changing and became more and more complex and majestic. This happened especially when Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister, and wanted the station to represent the power of the Fascist regime.”

Milano Centrale, Milan, Italy. Image by Daniel Case.

Wikipedia notes, “There remains unrestored and inaccessible areas to the public within the station, including a waiting room with swastikas on the floor designed to receive Hitler.”

I can only guess what the Donald would think of Il Duce’s taste in architecture. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020


  1. David Thomas
    February 15, 2020

    Maybe Donald should trade the current Air Force One for a Ford Tirmotor.

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