Like speech, architecture is a form of expression, meaning that any limitation on it represents a dangerous infringement on civil liberties. Free and open societies like ours do not dictate architectural styles or restrict creativity.
On February 4, Architectural Record first reported that a draft executive order, “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” was circulating among White House staff. The order seeks to designate classical architecture as the preferred style of federal buildings. Suddenly, architecture was once again thrust into the political arena.
AIA New York Chapter joined AIA National in its vigorous opposition to this order, encouraging members to participate in a nationwide letter-writing campaign to the White House. AIA members wrote over 10,000 letters of opposition, and AIANY requested further action from our federal representatives. On March 3, with the collaboration of Representative Jerrold Nadler (DNY), 12 members of the New York State Congressional Delegation issued a letter to President Donald Trump in support of AIA’s efforts to prevent the draft executive order from being signed into effect.
While the fate of the draft executive order is unknown at the time of print, this situation raises the important issue of how we promote design literacy among the general public, including lawmakers. Understanding and appreciating a range of architectural styles, both historic and contemporary, can only help us feel better connected to our ever-changing built environment.
I am therefore thrilled that the AIANY Honors and Awards Committee has chosen to recognize Gregory Wessner, Hon. AIA, with the 2020 Award of Merit, which is conferred on non-architects for their contributions to the profession, at the Chapter’s annual Honors and Awards Luncheon. Wessner has devoted his career to advancing knowledge about the practice of architecture. Starting out at the National Academy of Design, he continued his service to the design world while working at the Architectural League of New York for close to a dozen years. During his tenure at the Architectural League, he worked on a range of research projects and initiatives that resulted in important exhibits on numerous architects and the city. At Open House New York, where he is currently executive director, Wessner has dramatically transformed the organization by providing access to buildings and education about the city to a huge number of people, mostly the general public. He has broadened the scope of Open House New York, breaking out beyond the traditional confines of the fall Open House weekend to create a plethora of thematic and educational programming throughout the year.
Organizations such as AIANY and the Center for Architecture know that partners like Gregory Wessner and Open House New York greatly advance our society’s collective knowledge, appreciation, and stewardship of architecture, thus engendering an openness to architectural form and style. We encourage him to continue his work and hope that his efforts will help us to persuade the White House to become a more open house!