This year, a leaked memo from the white house titled “Make Federal Buildings Great Again” stirred up controversy. The memo decided that all federal buildings will use classical or neoclassical style in their building processes and that particular styles, like brutalism and modernism, were to be avoided.
The memo caused much uproar in architectural circles, and it wasn’t long before a bill presented to Congress titled the “Democracy in Design Act.” This was done on partisan lines but based on a previous federal rule, the “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture,” a 1962 law that encouraged modernism in federal buildings. More importantly, this federal rule restricted the idea that a particular architectural style is utilized solely for government buildings.
But after a months-long study conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the National Civic Art Society, which polled 2000 Americans, it has been found that Americans overwhelmingly support the use of classical or traditional architecture in federal buildings.
What is remarkable about this poll is that the findings across nearly all demographic lines, including sex, age, geographic region, household income, education, race/ethnicity, and even political party affiliation.
The poll presented people with seven sets of pictures of federal buildings, including U.S. Courthouses and federal office buildings. These images included one building with traditional architecture and one building with something more modern. (The pictures were controlled to make sure that all comparisons are fair, including similar weather, lighting, distance, angle, etc.)
Despite the House Democrats’ bill, 70% of Democrats, 73% of Republicans and 73% of independents preferred the traditional style. And those numbers hold true for virtually every demographic: 67% of men and 77% of women prefer the traditional style.
An academic study of American courthouses came out this year, finding the same thing. The author, Jack L. Nasar from Ohio State University, wrote, “The findings agree with consistent findings that architects misjudge public impressions of a design, and that most non-architects dislike ‘modern’ design and have done so for almost a century. Perhaps, through repeated experience, U.S. citizens have learned to see neoclassical designs or designs with those features as good examples of public buildings such as courthouses.”