Remember the brouhaha in February 2020, when the former person in the White House decided that all new federal buildings should follow “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again”?

Well, that was a question, but it didn’t make much sense.

The people who had been put on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in Washington, D.C., wanted to bow to the previous president. There was “explicit language endorsing ‘Spanish colonial and other Mediterranean styles generally found in Florida,’ thus including Trump’s privately owned Mar-a-Lago resort in the fold of acceptable ‘traditional’ styles.” This is a partial paragraph from The Washington Post’s art and architecture critic Phillip Kennicott written about a week ago.   

Basically, all new Neoclassical federal buildings in Washington, D.C. and new federal courthouses everywhere else in the country would stick to that executive order. (As you can see in that photograph that Neoclassical was a major thing in that city.) There was a burst of anger from architects, and the American Institute of Architects put up a defense. (

Of course, there are numerous Brutalist buildings in Washington, including the Hoover Building, housing the FBI, and the Weaver Building that is the home of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But that is an aside for those who like Brutalism.) 

But then: Shazam! 

President Joe Biden basically asked four of the men on the Commission of Fine Arts (the commission was all men and all white) asked them to resign or be terminated very quickly, like in a few hours. All were terminated, and four more people were put on the commission.  (The commission oversees design and architecture of federal buildings in D.C.)

As noted by NPR, the four appointed 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.”  

When the commission’s executive order erupted in February 2020, I realized that the buildings in what is called the Federal District in Denver is a true collection of styles marching through the decades. 

The Byron White U.S. Courthouse was built in 1916 in a Neoclassical Revival style; this is the building with the two wonderful Gladys Caldwell Fisher’s Rocky Mountain Sheep. Then there is the U.S. Post Office’s Denver Downtown Station, built in 1991, in Post Modern style. Then there is the U.S. Courthouse and Byron G. Rogers Federal Building, designed in 1965 in a Modernist style. Then there is the U.S. Custom House, built in 1931, in a style considered the Renaissance Revival. And, finally — and really amazing — the Alfred A. Arraj U.S. Courthouse completed in 2002, also in the Modernist style with a nod to the other buildings in that district. 

They all work together, featuring good architects and materials, looking back and thinking forward.

The links below deal with the executive order in 2020, and the decision by the new president to remove four members of the Commission of Fine Arts and add four new members because of the need for diversity. The stories are from NPR, The Washington Post, and Architectural Record. Finally, for those who love Brutalism, there’s a story for you, too.


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