Wayne L. Morse Federal CourthousePhoto by Todd Cooper

Making Architecture Great Again

Our golf-resort president calls for a federal design code and disses the designer of Eugene’s courthouse

It’s nice to discover, at long last, that Eugene’s Wayne L. Morse Federal Courthouse is officially un-American.

Who hasn’t suspected this all along? When the building opened in 2006, with its sweeping expanses of subversively gleaming (probably Scandinavian) metal, there wasn’t a marble pillar to be seen. What kind of American building doesn’t look like a Greek temple?

And the art! I mean, not a single painting of American eagles clutching arrows in their claws. No heroic bronze statues of dead white generals in front of the building. What kind of courthouse is that?

We must have been enjoying brownies at the Oregon Country Fair when we hired Southern California architect Thom Mayne, winner of such architectural accolades as the Rome Prize and the Pritzker Prize, to create what only a burned-out hack of a journalist like me could call Eugene’s most interesting building.

So it came as a relief last week when I read that the Trump administration was floating a draft executive order to make American architecture American again. 

In “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” the administration says the government “has largely stopped building beautiful buildings that the American people want to look at or work in.”

The prime example the draft order cites of federal buildings that lack American values and have “little aesthetic appeal” is the San Francisco Federal Building. It was designed by none other than Mayne and opened in 2007, just a year after Eugene’s own aesthetically subversive courthouse.

Trump, as always, has a solution. “New federal building designs should, like America’s landmark buildings, inspire the public,” the draft order says. “Classical and traditional architectural styles have proven their ability to inspire such respect for our system of self-government.” For all federal courthouses moving forward, classical architecture “shall be the preferred and default style,” the draft says.

The draft order doesn’t say what should happen to uninspiring monstrosities already built.

It’s time to act locally. Let’s call on the Eugene City Council. I’ll bet that in no time flat they could raze that offending courthouse, hire an out of town consultant and begin a 10-year process of building a new downtown parking lot — all done, of course, in classical style. ν