Congratulations on your new gig. What’s on your to-do list?

I’ve been getting up to speed on the ways in which the agency has been reorganized to deal with the tremendous number of projects that are going to be done through the Recovery Act. We need to ensure that the Design Excellence Program is continuing to perform, to see if there are ways that the system needs to be tweaked.

We’re under new leadership. Bob Peck has just returned, and it was Bob Peck who—working with Ed Feiner, Marilyn Farley, Tom Grooms, and Les Shepherd—put together the Design Excellence Program and established the Office of the Chief Architect, which is now the Office of Design and Construction. I suspect that Bob may do some rearranging.

Casey Jones
Noah Kalina Casey Jones

Will you make changes to the group of peer reviewers? In theory, the peers serve for two years, although there are so many projects in the pipeline that we’re going to rely on people’s commitment just to cover the workload. My goal would be to see a younger group of designers come into that process.

What about the kinds of firms that are ultimately getting selected? It seems like there has been less innovation in the past few years.

Of course, I’m concerned about who pursues our projects. That’s the cornerstone of our program. You want good designers involved from the beginning, and you want to challenge them to do their best work.

In the early days we were aggressively working with the courts to upgrade the quality of federal courthouses. They were prominent commissions—they had a stature to them. During the later Bush years, there was a tremendous backlog of federal buildings that were in need of renovation. My guess is that these jobs were not as appealing for architects in an era when the private sector was going like gangbusters.

And now architects are looking to the Recovery Act for work.

The design and construction piece of the pie is several billion dollars. Congress wants all the money appropriated by the end of September 2011—that means the designs have to be at a point where you can award construction contracts. The agency is scrambling so that firms have the most time possible to do their design work.

What lessons will you take forward from your time working with [past Design Excellence directors] Tom Grooms and Marilyn Farley?

Oh my God, everything I know. They remain my mentors.

Where will federal architecture be in 10 years?

Civic buildings are the complete embodiment of what we stand for as a nation, what we strive for, what we hope to achieve. The Guiding Principles [a Kennedy administration executive order for federal architecture drafted by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan] talks about “the finest contemporary American thought”—to connect the issues and ideas that are driving the profession back into federal work. My hope is that in 10 years’ time we will look back at a set of truly extraordinary buildings and artworks that perfectly encapsulate this time in history. ?