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Witold Rybczynski, a professor of Urbanism at the School of Design, was named to the United States Commission of Fine Arts on June 15.

The Commission advises the federal government on the design of all government buildings in Washington, D.C., private buildings in prominent areas and war memorials. It also reviews designs for coins and medals issued by the United States Mint.

Rybczynski, who is also a professor of Real Estate at the Wharton School, was appointed by President Bush and joined the seven-member Commission at their meeting in June.

Rybczynski was chosen after another member of the Commission had to step down.

"They were looking for someone with an urban perspective," said Rybczynski, who has written widely on urban space.

Rybczynski said he was pleased by the appointment.

"I've written about Frederick Olmsted and the [National] Mall so I was quite aware of the historical role of the Commission," he said, referring to his 1999 biography of Olmsted entitled A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the Nineteenth Century.

"It's kind of a historical group and that impresses me. There's a sense of continuity and historical purpose," he said. "And it is a chance to influence things in the context of Washington D.C."

Rybczynski complimented the National Mall, saying "I think the Mall is a wonderful space, particularly the way it's used as a national sort of playroom, where all sorts of things happen."

"It has this symbolic role, but in a very American way, it has a practical role," he added.

According to its Web site, the Commission was established in 1910 by an act of Congress to "guide the architectural development of Washington."

Since then, Rybczynski said, "it acts as a sort of consultant to the government on these various other design issues."

"It's primarily the exterior, public face of these buildings," he noted.

Rybczynski pointed out that the role of the Commission is strictly non-partisan.

"The Commission reports to the president. It was set up this way to try to take it out of -- as much as possible in Washington -- the political arena," he said. "It was set up to get an aesthetic judgment rather than a political judgment." The Commission will meet once a month on Thursdays.

Rybczynski said there will be no effect on his teaching at Penn.

"I sort of organized my teaching schedule so that I don't have a class [on Thursdays]. Nothing drastic happens," he added.

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