VIDEO: Federal Architecture

VIDEO: Federal Architecture

Democratic By Design is a short film, produced by the General Services Administration and narrated by Luke Russert, that tackles the issue of federal architecture. Buildings designed for the government typically have a familiar aesthetic. Washington, DC, is dominated by Neoclassical Architecture, building on the connotations of ancient Greek and Roman fora and temples as a symbol of democracy. But they perpetuate a sense of dominance and formality. Most of these buildings – city halls, courthouses, agency headquarters – were built in the 18th and 19th century, yet they leave behind a legacy and association in the architecture of the federal government.

US Census Bureau Headquarters / SOM

On the contrary, government buildings built in the mid to late 20th century, specifically after 1962, have a more varied vernacular. This can be credited to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, aide to President John F. Kennedy. His one page document outlined guidelines for public architecture – an effort to contextualize and modernism government buildings. This video brings his words to life via well-known architects who have have designed federal buildings.

Join us after the break for a look at some of these buildings.

The document lays out relatively straight forward principles to the public about the characteristic of federal architecture. The goal was to raise the quality of new federal buildings and design them in a way in which all Americans could relate to them. Emphasis was placed on designs that embody contemporary thoughts of architecture and the fine arts, with careful consideration placed on regional architectural traditions. Special attention was to be paid to the site context, the streets and the public places that were affected by new federal buildings. Adequate space for landscaping was also encouraged.

United States Federal Courthouse / H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture; Photograph © Chris Cooper

An official style was to be avoided to prevent uniformity and encourage creativity and innovation. It called for an inspired architecture that was an authentic expression of the designers but held true to the practical considerations of accessibility, efficiency, and structural integrity. Its unifying trait was to be that federal buildings, no matter their aesthetics, were to provide a visual testimony of the dignity, enterprise, vigor and civility of the American government.

U.S. Commercial Port of Entry & Border Station / Robert Siegel Architects; Photograph © Paul Warchol

Via Metropolis Magazine

United States Courthouse / Richard Meier & Partners Architects, © Scott Frances ESTO

About this author
Cite: Irina Vinnitskaya. "VIDEO: Federal Architecture" 23 Dec 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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