Contemporary politics and classical architecture: Federal Building and Courthouse, Tuscaloosa

A conversation with Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris in front of HBRA Architects, United States Federal Building and Courthouse, 2011, Tuscaloosa, Alabama


Federal Building VA

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Key Points

  • Like many other civic structures across the United States, the federal building and courthouse in Tuscaloosa was designed in the neoclassical style, emulating the features of ancient Greek and Roman architecture. 
  • Neoclassicism was one of a number of architectural revival styles in Europe and the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. The renewal of the classical style, however, had particular importance in U.S. architecture as it was–and still is–seen to symbolize the values of democracy, which is believed to have originated in ancient Greece. 
  • In recent years, however, a debate has emerged about the use of the classical style in civic architecture in the U.S., particularly in response to a 2020 presidential mandate that all federal buildings employ a classical design. The issue has taken on a political tone, with critics of the mandate arguing that the exclusion of other architectural styles, especially those that represent the diverse cultural heritages of the American population, is undemocratic and alarmingly reminiscent of the rhetoric of totalitarianism.

Go Deeper

President Donald Trump, “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture“, Executive Order, December 21, 2020.

Taylor Dafoe, “Joe Biden Has Revoked Trump’s Executive Order Mandating Classical-Only Architecture for Federal Buildings, Restoring ‘Freedom of Design’,” Artnet, February 26, 2021.

Michael R. Allen, “Trumpism, Neoclassicism, and Architecture as Propaganda,” Platform, May 17, 2021.

Learn more about the projects and history of HBRA architects.

More to Think About

What do you think about the question posed in the video: should the federal government mandate a style for federal architecture? 

If yes, debate the merits of classical architecture as the prevalent style for civic architecture in the United States. If not, what criteria should be used to decide on the particular style of new federal buildings? 

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