Democratic by Design: Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture

Uploaded by usgsa on 05.06.2012

The buildings we build are
the connective tissue that makes us
a nation. it is impossible to make
a building without having it mean
something. the one constancy is the
federal government. working
together we uncover what the goals
are and we share authorship. What
is the face, what is the character
of a public building in America
today? Just to know that the
government actually
really important.
On June 1, 1962,
the course of federal architecture
was altered. Buried in a detailed
report on the urgent need for new
federal buildings by President
Kennedy's Ad Hoc Committee on
Federal Office Space was a
seemingly benign page titled
Guiding Principles for Federal
Architecture. Penned by Daniel
Patrick Moynihan, then a young
assistant to the Secretary of
Labor, the Guiding Principles were
meant to raise the quality of new
federal buildings by creating
architecture that resonated with
all Americans and provided
enriching civic spaces. Everybody
wanted another building. I was
assigned to do work at this by
Secretary Goldberg. We thought,
well, why not, as we set about this
new building boom, why don't we put
some guidelines, about how -- what
these buildings should look like.
So, I wrote a little one-page
guidelines for Federal
Architecture. In the course of its
consideration of the general
subject of Federal office space,
the committee has given some
thought to the need for a set of
principles which will guide the
Government in the choice of design
for Federal buildings. The
committee takes it to be a matter
of general understanding that the
economy and suitability of Federal
office space derive directly from
the architectural design. The
belief that good design is
optional, or in some way separate
from the question of the provision
of office space itself, does not
bear scrutiny, and in fact invites
the least efficient use of public
money. The design of Federal office
buildings, particularly those to be
located in the nation's capital,
must meet a two-fold requirement.
First, it must provide efficient
and economical facilities for the
use of Government agencies. Second,
it must provide visual testimony to
the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and
stability of the American
Government. It should be our object
to meet the test of Pericles;
evocation to the Athenians, which
the President commended to the
Massachusetts legislature in his
address of January 9, 1961 : We do
not imitate-for we are a model to
others. The committee is also of
the opinion that the Federal
Government, no less than other
public and private organizations
concerned with the construction of
new buildings, should take
advantage of the increasingly
fruitful collaboration between
architecture and the fine arts.
With these objects in view, the
committee recommends a three point
architectural policy for the
Federal Government. 1. The policy
shall be to provide requisite and
adequate facilities in an
architectural style and form which
is distinguished and which will
reflect the dignity, enterprise,
vigor, and stability of the
American National Government. Major
emphasis should be placed on the
choice of designs that embody the
finest contemporary American
architectural thought. Specific
attention should be paid to the
possibilities of incorporating into
such designs qualities which
reflect the regional architectural
traditions of that part of the
Nation in which buildings are
located. Where appropriate, fine
art should be incorporated in the
designs, with emphasis on the work
of living American artists. Designs
shall adhere to sound construction
practice and utilize materials,
methods and equipment of proven
dependability. Buildings shall be
economical to build, operate and
maintain, and should be accessible
to the handicapped. 2. The
development of an official style
must be avoided. Design must flow
from the architectural profession
to the Government. and not vice
versa. The Government should be
willing to pay some additional cost
to avoid excessive uniformity in
design of Federal buildings.
Competitions for the design of
Federal buildings may be held where
appropriate. The advice of
distinguished architects ought to,
as a rule, be sought prior to the
award of important design
contracts. 3. The choice and
development of the building site
should be considered the first step
of the design process. This choice
should be made in cooperation with
local agencies. Special attention
should be paid to the general
ensemble of streets and public
places of which Federal buildings
will form a part. Where possible,
buildings should be located so as
to permit a generous development of
landscape. Hello, I am Luke
Russert, I have fond memories of
Senator Moynihan, both as my
father's good friend and mentor,
but also as someone who sought to
find the worth and value of every
issue. The Guiding Principles for
Federal Architecture, still
relevant half-a-century later,
advocates for authentic expression
by our nation's most talented
architects and artists; universal
accessibility; sound,
cost-effective construction and
operation; and a positive, engaging
presence in the communities in
which government facilities are
located. Public buildings as well
as monuments, landscapes, and
infrastructure play a special role
in society. They give visual form
and bear witness to the values and
aspirations of a society and its
members. Underlying the principles
is the premise that public works in
our nation should not simply
reveal, but also infuse, democratic
values. Clearly itÕs important that
government delivers services to the
public. At the same time, it is
impossible to make a building
without having it mean something
about the relationship of the
people to the government of the
United States. You have to find a
way to address the question,
because it will affect everybody
working in the building; and it
will affect everyone that comes to
the building. In an open and
democratic society where economics
and politics and a variety of other
circumstances wax and wane, the one
constancy is the federal
government. For the senator to
have the understanding that
architecture could convey not the
power of the federal government but
the power of our transparent, open
system is of tremendous historical
consequence. In word and spirit,
the Guiding Principles have
profoundly impacted federal
investments in architecture and
design. They guided redevelopment
of historic Pennsylvania Avenue in
the nationÕs capital turning
America's decaying ceremonial Main
Street into a lively urban
destination for living, working,
and entertainment. They underpin
modern landmarks, from the Federal
Center in Chicago, designed by Mies
van der Rohe, to the National
Renewable Energy Laboratory's new
net-zero Research Support Facility
in Golden, Colorado. I think a lot
of the success of really good
architecture has to be about
everybody sharing a common goal,
being able to communicate or
identify what the goal is. It's not
that the goal is obvious ever in
the beginning, but working together
we uncover what the goals are and
we share authorship of that. The
principles have endured because
dedicated public employees have
applied them to achieve the mission
and goals of their specific
agencies. Citizens, designers, and
civil servants alike can ensure the
principles continued longevity by
interpreting their meaning for a
changing society. The federal
government must be responsible to
the demographics of our society.
It's a very different problem than
it was a hundred years ago. What is
the face, what is the character of
a public building in America today?
I think it's a big question to ask
what is it supposed to look like,
how does it fit into its community,
how does it push back at its
community. Transformations taking
place today, and those we cannot
yet foresee, will inspire new ways
to embody American ingenuity and
purpose. Like America's
foundational documents, the Guiding
Principles for Federal Architecture
are adaptable to address these
changes. It's brilliantly written
and should be read more often and
should be understood by the public
even better: I think just to know
that the government actually cares,
our government is actually taking
steps to implement these things, is
really important. It's a great
moment to revisit it. I think it
should be a national discussion
amongst all of us that care deeply
about the principles set forward.
Each one of us, you, I, everyone,
has a responsibility to make sure
that the built environment is as
beautiful, as efficient, as
functional and as representative of
our culture as it can be.
Architecture is one of the most
visible and enduring ways the
government can represent its values
across time. The guiding
principles codified the high
standards that federal architecture
has sought to achieve since the
nation's founding. But the
challenge -- and the ultimate
responsibility -- for designers and
public officials alike remains the
same now as it has always been: to
continually and clearly evaluate
our work for the American people.
Continued excellence in
architecture and design is a way to
show that the federal government
aims high, that its citizens
deserve the best, and that the
public realm matters.