AIA speaks out against federal neoclassical mandate for Fort Lauderdale courthouse

Draft Outrage

AIA speaks out against federal neoclassical mandate for Fort Lauderdale courthouse

The Tarpon River wending through Fort Lauderdale. (Luiz Cent/Unsplash)

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is wading into a fight with the federal government over the new federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In soliciting an architect for the project, the General Service Administration (GSA) is requesting that any applicants recognize “Classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style absent special extenuating factors necessitating another style.”

That mandate, clearly in reference to the draft executive order revealed by the Trump administration earlier this year requiring new federal structures to be designed in the neoclassical style, was met with a swift denouncement by the AIA.

“We reject the principle of any pre-ordained styles mandated for GSA projects,” said AIA EVP/chief executive officer Robert Ivy, FAIA, in a statement. “Instead, the AIA emphatically supports the peer-reviewed Design Excellence Program, which has raised the quality of federal design in communities throughout the United States, with projects tailored to the people, the places, and the times we live in.”

The AIA also noted that the draft Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again order is just that; an unenforceable draft. Still, it appears the GSA is going ahead and attempting to institute the draft order in a piecemeal fashion, starting with the planned 255,000-square-foot, $125 million Fort Lauderdale courthouse.

In their Request for Qualifications (RFQ), the GSA noted that no site has been chosen yet but, after the three acres required were found, the selected architect would work closely with the federal government under a Design Build-Bridging process.

“The Bridging A/E will be tasked with working with the GSA and the courts as the owner’s design consultant to identify the architectural features and stylistic direction of the Design-Build Solicitation.  The selected A/E will develop preliminary concepts and move forward with the selected concept to create the Final Bridging Concept that will be presented to, and approved by the GSA Commissioner, in accordance with the GSA PBS P-100 and all applicable requirements.”

This isn’t the first time professional organizations have pushed back against the Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again order. Days after the draft order was revealed in February, the AIA, critics, and historical preservation societies spoke out against the decision. Then, the Democracy in Design Act (H.R.7604) was introduced to the House in June; if the act passed the president’s desk, it would enshrine the GSA’s current mandate to build in contemporary styles into law. H.R.7604 has yet to be voted on.