Architect of Capitol Makes His Mark with Visitor Center

Event: The U.S. Capitol: The Continuing Evolution of a Historic Icon
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.11.11
Speaker: Alan M. Hantman, FAIA — 10th Architect of the U.S. Capitol, 1997-2007
Introduction: Margaret O’Donoghue Castillo, AIA, LEED AP — 2011 AIANY President; Gregory Cranford, AIA — Co-chair, AIANY Historic Building Committee
Organizers: AIANY Historic Building Committee; Center for Architecture
Sponsor: Porcelnosa

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The entry to the Visitor Center at the U.S. Capitol.

Matthew G. Bisanz

Alan M. Hantman, FAIA, was appointed to the position of Architect of the Capitol during the second term of the Clinton Administration. With duties that included overseeing 300 acres and 15 million square feet of buildings space, the largest project he took on was the arduous challenge of orchestrating the design and construction of a 580,000-square-foot Visitors Center, designed by RKTL Associates, on the east front of Jenkins Hill, tucked around the pinnacle of the Capitol campus.

Being the focal point of government, it was important not to obstruct the clear view of the Capitol Building on East Capitol Street. For that reason, the Visitor’s Center was designed below grade, under the plaza. Accommodating approximately 4,000 people at any given time, the entry to the center is via a procession of spaces extending three stories underground. Sweeping access ramps lead visitors from Independence and Constitution Avenues to a mezzanine above the Congressional Auditorium overlooking Emancipation Hall. Proceeding down the steps to Emancipation Hall, grand skylights expose daylight views of the Capitol Dome and help orient visitors. Additional spaces within the center include an I-Max theater and Exhibition Hall for multi-functional uses, as well as a dining facility. Hantman’s ability to create a seamless transition between the new construction and the existing Capitol Building was his self-described greatest accomplishment.

Originally slated for completion in January 2005, construction faced a major setback on 9/11, which happened just four days shy of awarding the bid to a contractor (ultimately Balfour Beatty). Only after the design team re-evaluated security measures could construction continue. The mechanical and electrical systems needed to be reconfigured including increased and reconfigured air intakes, and the installation of supplementary fire dampers. Additional means of egress above code requirements were incorporated into the design as a preventative measure. The grand skylights were redesigned for triple the level of security. Furthermore, while construction was on hold, it was also decided that more space was needed for the Senate and Congress. As a result, 170,000 square feet of public assembly space was added to the program.

Ultimately, the Visitor’s Center officially opened on 12.02.08, after Hantman’s term had ended and Stephen T. Ayers, AIA, LEED AP, succeeded him. With approximately 250 million visitors a year visiting the space he initiated, Hantman has left an indelible mark on our nation’s past, present, and future history.