U.S. Representative Dina Titus is demanding answers from the head of the General Services Administration about GSA’s newly released criteria for construction, which call for two new courthouses—in Florida and Alabama—to be built in the “classic architectural style.”

While the style may be appropriate in these two instances, GSA’s newly-stated criteria signal that the Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to dictate architecture style across the country, taking away long-standing principles of local control and community input as outlined in GSA’s own Design Excellence Program, according to an Aug. 26 release issued by the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. Titus (D-Nev.), is the chairwoman of the Committee's subcommittee on economic development, public buildings and emergency management.

A GSA spokesperson told ENR in an email, "As Chairwoman Titus noted in her release, GSA appropriately included criteria for a classical architectural style in two recent solicitations for new courthouses in Florida and Alabama. GSA will respond to the Chairwoman directly and address her concerns."

The most recent brouhaha was triggered by language in the recently released GSA Solicitation for Lead Design Architect (Solicitation #47PE0320Q006) for the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., United States Courthouse Project. This solicitation mandates that “classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style absent special extenuating factors necessitating another style.” GSA included similar language in the 2019 solicitation for the Huntsville, Alabama, courthouse project as well, according to Titus.

In an earlier move, Titus introduced the Democracy in Design Act (H.R. 7604) to prohibit GSA from implementing any such mandate or otherwise violating the Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture, among other things.

Troubling Emerging Pattern

In an Aug. 25 letter to GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, Titus wrote: “The recent solicitations for services represent a troubling emerging pattern of attempts to dictate architectural style directly from the federal government. Last year, a draft executive order circulated by the Trump Administration entitled 'Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again' would have imposed the same preference for the classical architectural style on federal buildings and courthouses. It was met with overwhelming opposition from architects, over 11,000 of whom expressed their dismay in writing to the White House.”

Titus continued: “…imposing a preferred architectural style for federal facilities runs counter to our nation’s democratic traditions. Attempting to implement this misguided mandate from Washington, D.C. by circumventing Congress and gutting decades of GSA policy and practice without any public notice or hearing is even worse. GSA should be forthright and transparent about its intentions and authorities.

“It is especially concerning that GSA would think it is appropriate to use language in a solicitation for services to overturn decades of policy associated with GSA’s own Design Excellence Program, which is based on the Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture as disseminated by President John F. Kennedy in 1962."

Titus maintains that one of the guiding principles addresses this policy change directly: “The development of an official style must be avoided. Design must flow from the architectural profession to the government, and not vice versa. The government should be willing to pay some additional cost to avoid excessive uniformity in design of federal buildings. Competitions for the design of federal buildings may be held where appropriate. The advice of distinguished architects ought to, as a rule, be sought prior to the award of an important design contract.”

Story updated on Aug. 27 with GSA comments.