September 28, 2023

Four of the seven members of the Federal Fine Arts Commission, a generally reluctant, serious design advisory group that was embroiled in architectural style battles during the Trump era, have been asked by the Biden administration to resign or face notice to the chairman the commission.

All seven members of the commission were appointed by former President Donald J. Trump; Four were appointed on January 12, just days before Mr. Trump stepped down from office.

According to its website, the commission advises on “questions of design and aesthetics, as they affect the interests of the federal government and preserve the dignity of the country’s capital”. Mr Trump pushed architecture into the culture wars late in his presidency when he signed an executive order setting classical architecture as the preferred style for new federal buildings, against opposition from prominent architectural and heritage groups who reluctantly tried which could be seen as an attempt to impose a national style.

Commission chairman Justin Shubow, who was a driving force behind promoting classical architecture, said he and three other members of the commission – architect Steven Spandle, artist Chas Fagan and landscape architect Perry Guillot – had been asked to resign. He noted that the commission’s members will be appointed for a four-year term and said that requesting their removal would break a long-standing precedent.

“The government’s actions represent an attack on classical architecture, a style loved by the vast majority of the American people,” Shubow said in an email, adding that he hoped the government did not intend to ” to bring back the ugliness of. ” Brutalism or other dark styles. “

According to email correspondence verified by the New York Times, Mr. Shubow denied the request to resign. The emails revealed that he had received a formal letter from an assistant to the president asking for his resignation on Monday. The letter said that if the White House did not receive his resignation, his position on the commission would end at 6 p.m. that same day.

“In the Commission’s 110-year history, no commissioner has ever been ousted by a president, let alone the chairman of the commission,” Shubow wrote in an email response. “Any such distance would set a terrible precedent.”

A White House spokesman said Tuesday that Mr Biden plans to appoint four new members to the visual arts commission who will collectively bring a wider range of aesthetic concerns. Appointments include: Peter Cook, Principal at HGA Architects who worked at the National Museum of African American History and Culture; Hazel Ruth Edwards, Chair of the Howard University Department of Architecture; Justin Garrett Moore, designer and urbanist at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and Billie Tsien, partner at Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects.

Administration officials noted that the four members they removed had been appointed by the previous administration and suggested that their aesthetic sensibilities – including their strong advocacy of classical architecture – mismatched Mr Biden’s.


May 25, 2021, 8:46 p.m. ET

Before the change, the lack of diversity among those appointed by Mr Trump was criticized by some who found it to be composed of all white men.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Mr Guillot, who recently worked on a renovation of the rose garden, confirmed that he, too, had been asked to resign on Monday. He said he thought it best to just let the 6pm deadline pass. He then wrote a letter to White House staff complaining that his term in office had been so short and that he had expressed good wishes to the Biden administration.

“I thought this was the way to gently let it go,” he said, adding that he would have preferred to keep going. “I found the work incredibly meaningful.”

Mr. Guillot also said he did not “come from strict classical school”.

“This will be a moment when the CFA has also become politicized,” he said. “Indeed, terms may be new when an administration begins, like a cabinet post.”

Mr Spandle did not immediately respond to requests for comments on Tuesday.

Mr Shubow, who was elected chairman of the commission in January, noted that all four of the Trump administration’s late appointments had replaced members nominated by former President Barack Obama when he was about to step down.

The subject of classical architecture was controversial among architects. The order eventually signed by President Trump, entitled “Promoting Beautiful Federal Citizen Architecture,” established classical architecture as the preferred style for new federal buildings, but banned other styles.

The American Institute of Architects asked the Biden administration to reverse the order. Philip Kennicott, the Washington Post’s art and architecture critic, wrote in February that President Biden should remove the members of the commission, describing them as less respected than their predecessors.

Mr. Biden revoked the architecture ordinance shortly after taking office.