Credit: Architect of the Captiol
The Capitol Visitor Center—shown here in a June 12 photo—encompasses 580,000 square feet on three underground levels.
On Capitol Hill, the U.S. Senate's Chaplain, Barry Black, is an ordained minister. Adm. John Eisold, the Attending Physician to Congress, is a bona fide medical doctor. But there is a chance that whoever becomes the next Architect of the Capitol won't be an architect at all, though presumably he or she will carry the title.
In May The Washington Post reported that members of Congress are looking to recommend candidates for the Architect of the Capitol job—a presidential appointment—whose managing skills they believe will surpass those of Alan Hantman, the previous Architect, who left in February at the end of his 10-year term. During Hantman's tenure, frustration mounted over delays in completing the new Capitol Visitor Center, designed by RTKL Associates, beneath the building's east front. The center broke ground in 2000 with an expected price of $265 million, which has since risen to about $600 million.
Howard Gantman, staff director of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which is helping coordinate the search with aid from recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles, tells ARCHITECT that a broad range of candidates has surfaced. “Some who have appeared to be good candidates are architects, and some are not,” he says. Gantman emphasizes the position's “major management role,” which besides actual architecture includes overseeing nearly all functionary aspects of the Capitol complex, from food service to garbage collection.
The person chosen will have a full plate: “The restaurants are losing a million dollars a year,” Gantman explains. “There are major concerns related to the power plant. There will be a focus on efforts to make the Capitol complex more environmentally friendly, and there is asbestos in the tunnels.”
There are also minds to be read. The visitor center project is over a barrel not just because of post-9/11 security upgrades, but also because, since it began, members of Congress have added as much as 170,000 square feet of meeting rooms and other spaces that have nothing to do with tourists, says Marshall E. Purnell, president-elect of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). But, he says, “without the appropriate funding, you've got to blame somebody.”
Alan Hantman, the previous Architect of the Capitol, stepped down in February.
Blaming the Architect of the Capitol, however, may be a bit like blaming Al Gore for an ice storm. The AIA has recommended four people, all of whom Gantman describes as underwhelming. “The AIA has sought to have input,” Gantman says. “Unfortunately, they have not presented us with a wide array of candidates who are architects and who have significant management experience.”
Make that significant middle management experience. Given the congressional whims surrounding the visitor center construction (Rep. David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, has given the project his “golden drain award”), a better title might be Senior Lackey to Congress.
“We're very happy to have an architect” in the job, Gantman says. “We'd like to do it soon and see it resolved this summer.”