The following is a letter by urban planner and author Jeff Speck, sent to Justin Shubow, president of National Civic Art Society, in response to that organization’s year-end solicitation. Speck has permitted us to reprint the letter in full.
Dear Mr. Shubow,
It’s the shortest day of the (longest) year, but I felt obliged to make the time to respond to your fundraising letter of December 2, especially in light of the recent announcement from the White House. Please remove me from your mailing list, and know that I am saddened by what the organization has become under your leadership.
I used to support NCAS when it was effectively a voice for diversity, asking that traditional and vernacular architectural styles be given a fair shake as an alternative to the modernist approaches that dominate the profession. When I was design director at the NEA, I took pains to create intellectually diverse grant-giving panels so that more traditional proposals would be given a fair hearing. I always enjoyed the opportunity to argue for the ideology-free nature of a style employed in equal measure by democracies and tyrants. Thanks to you, I’m not sure I can do that anymore.
By ghost-writing an executive order to make classicism the default style for federal architecture, you and your organization have shown that your goal is no longer diversity, but domination. By accusing “Modernists”—cute, your big M—of wanting the same, you expose the childish impulse behind trying to win the style wars. You have gone from wanting a seat at the table to trying to pull out everyone else’s chair.
Worse yet, you have done this in partnership with a would-be autocrat. We used to think that destroying the Bonwit-Teller, throwing up glitzy dreck, and stiffing his architects was all the harm that Donald Trump could do to the building arts. Now we know better. For those of us who enjoy both modern and traditional design, but are less flexible in our support for democracy, you have sadly put the nail in the coffin of classicism’s ideological innocence. Whatever it may have been before, it is now the house style of the Trump kleptocracy.
Far from improving the prospects for traditional architecture in the US, you have doomed it, and your organization, to permanent association with a would-be tyrant. If this week’s victory gives you any sense of comfort, I’m sorry to say it’s the temporary relief of someone who just shat the pool.
Jeff Speck, FAICP, FCNU, LEED-AP, Honorary ASLA
Featured image of the United States Supreme Court, via AP.