AIA 2012 Convention Special: Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Guiding Principles Still Relevant

(l-r) Justice Stephen G. Breyer; David M. Childs, FAIA; Allan Greenberg; Harriet Tregoning; Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA.

Linda Miller

Event: The Moynihan Symposium on Public Design: The Evolution (and Evaluation) of Public Design
Location: Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC, 05.16.12
Panelists: Linda Chero, Acting Commissioner, GSA Public Buildings Service; David M. Childs, FAIA; Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; Allan Greenberg, Allan Greenberg Architect; Harriet Tregoning, Director, Washington, DC, Office of Planning; David Burney, FAIA, Commissioner, NYC Department of Design + Construction (appeared on a later panel.)
Moderator: Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA, Contributing Editor, Vanity Fair
Organizer: The General Services Administration (GSA), in conjunction with the AIA 2012 National Convention

“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.” – Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Report to the President by the Ad Hoc Committee on Federal Office Space, June 1, 1962.

Fifty years ago, New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003), then an assistant secretary of labor during the Kennedy Administration, was asked to report on the status of federal office space. What he delivered was Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture.

In honor of the golden anniversary of the three principles, the AIA and the General Services Administration (GSA) convened a symposium to recognize the late Senator’s contributions to the built environment and to discuss the future of public design.

The AIA presented Senator Moynihan a posthumous Presidential Citation for his “renewed promise of this nation’s founders, who believed that what we build should reflect our highest ideals.” The Senator’s daughter Maura Moynihan – a long-standing proponent of transforming New York’s Farley Post Office into Moynihan Station, accepted the citation and quoted her father: “The point about public architecture is that it’s public, with the notion of civitas, of a person to be there and to participate.”

In her welcome, Linda Chero, acting commissioner of the GSA’s Public Buildings Service, said, “Design creates value and by finding inspiration in Senator Moynihan’s legacy, we raise the bar on quality. Today, we must redouble our commitment to his principles. In the early half of the 20th century, Neo-Classical was the official style for federal buildings, yet in the three principles Moynihan countered that ‘the development of an official style of architecture must be avoided and design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government, and not vice versa.’”

Of the Senator, panel moderator, architecture critic, and Vanity Fair contributing editor Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA, said that “not since Jefferson has there been a highly-placed government champion for architecture. He saw federal government buildings as a way to show what we believe in and what we stand for.”

David M. Childs, FAIA, consulting design partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, actually worked with Moynihan while serving as design director of the Pennsylvania Avenue Commission, spurred in part by Moynihan’s declaration: “We must do something about the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue.” This opened the door to the redevelopment a dilapidated section of the city that much dismayed President Kennedy on his inaugural drive. Childs’s connection to Moynihan continues since it was he who prepared the 2001 design of what is to become Moynihan Station at New York’s main post office.

Stephen G. Breyer, an associate justice of the Supreme Court who had experience working with architects on the design of the First Circuit Federal Court House in Boston when he was a judge, appealed to architects by saying: “The government is a difficult client, but that’s a reason to help – not run away.”

Allan Greenberg of Allan Greenberg Architect, a practitioner of Classism, is in awe of the founding fathers – Washington, Jefferson, and Madison – who were architects, and feels continuity is important and that “contextualism is a quality we have lost.” He also reminded the audience that “We the People” can signify that federal buildings belong to the people and that the original Capitol had an inviting 32 entrances.

When Moynihan wrote his principles, security was of lesser concern and not addressed. It is a more pressing issue, however, for Harriet Tregoning, director of the Office of Planning, who believes that “the welcoming of people to federal buildings is totally gone,” adding that “the federal government came on early with high performance buildings and they can be a leader when it comes to security.”

David Burney, FAIA, commissioner of the NYC Department of Design + Construction and AIANY board member, had written a memo he hoped would be read by President Obama. In it he wrote: “In my opinion, Moynihan’s Guiding Principles needs no improvement. What we DO need is to put in place those best practices by which the Guiding Principles can be fulfilled. These Best Practices have been articulated and practiced by the General Services Administration’s ‘Design Excellence’ program, and by our own Design and Construction Excellence Program in New York (which owes a heavy debt to the GSA program). What is needed is for these Best Practices to become the standard practice for all federal public works so that Moynihan’s vision might be fulfilled.”