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This past week Steven Ayers, Architect of the Capitol of the United States, came and visited with HPA members about the role of the Capitol Architect; the preservation, sustainability, and construction mission of the Capitol; and the importance of working in the public sector.
The Capitol Architect is responsible for 450 acres of Capitol grounds, the 16.5 million square feet of office space, the artwork inside these buildings, the grounds around them, and the day to day operations of the buildings. The Architect also serves on some 22 community and civic professional boards. These boards give the Architect a voice in the community and the changes that occur to it. The Architect preserves the history and documents that allow future preservationist to understand and further the preservation mission of the Capitol. The Capitol is constantly adjusting to the needs of the legislative branch as it strives to achieve its work of serving the public.
The preservation philosophy of the Capitol is to maintain the current and historic appearance of the Capitol with concern to maintenance and new construction projects. Fresco paintings, sculptures, flooring, wall coverings, gold leafing, furniture are all maintained, preserved, and created by a talented staff of craftsmen and artists that are employed in the Architect of the Capitol office. These crafts must be maintained for future preservation of the Capitol.
As new codes are passed the Capitol must be adapted to accommodate these codes as best as can be, while still preserving the appearance and symbolic meaning of the Capitol. Fire codes demand that fire suppression systems be installed in the capitol. To achieve this without disturbing the appearance of the frescos and domes, sprinkler heads are strategically placed in flowers and paintings so that their location is concealed when looking from visitors’ perspective. ADA ramps require new construction that cannot be hidden in the same way that other systems can. Ramps are built to look like they were there since the Capitol was originally constructed.
Major new additions, such as the visitor center, require a high degree of design consideration. The visitor center was located underground on the east side of the Capitol in a way that did not majorly affect the surrounding view of the Capitol dome. The visitor center also took design cues from the Capitol and other buildings around Capitol square in a contemporary design scheme. This allows for a continuity of design while still giving a modern design aesthetic.
A major goal of the Architect is to achieve sustainability within the Capitol grounds. Measures include replacing light bulbs, improving ventilation system efficiency, and measuring and reporting building energy data. The Capitol is seeking a goal of 50 percent energy efficiency in 2017. To achieve this small measures have been performed to increase the building’s performance. As the “low hanging fruit” has been picked, new measures such as improved central utility plant are being undertaken.
The Architect spoke of the joy and passion for working in the public sector. This includes working with senators and representatives in performing the day to day task, wide range of events, and major celebrations that occurs non-stop on the Capitol grounds. This work preserves the symbolism and values that are portrayed by the Capitol.
On behalf of the HPA, I thank Steven Ayers and his staff for making this event a success. It was a great workshop and lecture that allow members to learn a unique part of preservation and architecture.