The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is advocating for legislation re-introduced in Congress that will prevent future administrations and the federal government from mandating preferred design styles for federal buildings.
“I’m pleased to introduce this important bipartisan legislation that is essential to guaranteeing the future integrity of the Design Excellence Program,” said Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV). “It will also ensure that design input for federal buildings flows from local communities and artists to the government, not the other way around. I thank Congressman Simpson for joining me to sponsor this meaningful legislation.”
The “Democracy in Design Act”—co-sponsored by Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID)—would codify the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) 1962 Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture and prohibit the federal government from mandating any preferred national design style. Additionally, the legislation would safeguard the Design Excellence Program by directing the GSA to undergo enhanced formal rulemaking processes—to include public comment—to any proposed changes to the Design Excellence Program, which guides the GSA’s process to acquire, design, and construct public buildings. By doing so, the legislation would effectively increase transparency and prevent political influence in the federal design process while also allowing the program to evolve for modern needs.
“Recent attempts to establish a federal design mandate demonstrated the crucial need to institute well defined, transparent, and democratic processes around federal design decisions,” said 2021 AIA president Peter Exley, FAIA. “We are committed to working with lawmakers who support AIA’s effort to safeguard our nation’s buildings from being subject to political preferences in the future and to ensure public buildings meet the needs of the communities they serve.”
On February 25, the Biden Administration overturned the former Executive Order, “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture.” Under the Executive Order, government agencies could mandate an architectural style preference for federal courthouses and other federal buildings. It also promoted “classical” and “traditional” architecture above other designs and required extensive justification to use other styles. The order also conveyed misinformation about the GSA’s Design Excellence Program, which the AIA strongly supports. Overall, the mandate inappropriately elevated the design tastes of a few federal appointees over the communities in which the buildings would be placed.
“What fits for Boise, Idaho doesn’t always work for Washington, DC, and vice versa,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID). “I am a cosponsor of this legislation because I don’t want any Administration—Republican or Democrat—to be able to mandate certain architectural styles. Let’s try to keep politics out of the design of our federal buildings.”
Prior to the Biden Administration overturning the Executive Order, Rep. Titus introduced a previous version of the “Democracy in Design Act” (H.R. 7604) in an effort to thwart any design style mandate. This latest version of the bill has been enhanced by adding provisions for the GSA's Design Excellence Program.
For more than a year-and-a-half, AIA has taken a multi-pronged approach to stopping the Executive Order and safeguarding the Design Excellence Program. In February of 2020, AIA members sent more than 11,400 lettersto the White House condemning a mandated design preference. Additionally, AIA leadership issued letters onFeb. 6, 2020 and Feb. 20 2020 to the Trump Administration strongly opposing the order. AIA also worked closely with the Biden Administration to ultimately reverse the Executive Order.
Visit AIA’s website to learn more about its advocacy efforts.