AIA champions approved recommendations to modernize Congressional facilities and practices

Bipartisan Support

AIA champions approved recommendations to modernize Congressional facilities and practices

(National Park Service Digital Image Archives/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

In complete accord, the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress has approved a series of recommendations for updating facilities around the United States Capitol building, including upgrading offices of Congressional representatives. The proposed orders are a response to March 17 testimony presented to legislators by American Institute of Architects (AIA) member Katie Irwin.

Irwin, a Senior Associate at Quinn Evans in Washington, D.C., introduced insight and ideas to members of Congress for updating and improving the U.S. Capitol and its surrounding campus to meet “demands of a 21st century office.” Among her ideas are increased daylight, improved signage and accessibility, acoustic features, and workspaces designed to accommodate hybrid and digital work.

The AIA “applauded” the news of the approved suggestions. In a press statement the professional organization said it acknowledges that the itemized propositions are merely propositions and are “not binding” but celebrates the suggestions “being heard and heeded.” The 29 recommendations were presented to the Modernization Committee, which was established in January 2019 “to investigate, study, make findings, hold public hearings, and develop recommendations on modernizing Congress.” The bipartisan group has no legislative authority, rather it analyzes proposed updates to both tangible and intangible Congressional aspects, these include modernizing technology and facilities in addition to developing more efficient procedures and policies.

The 29 recommendations approved by the committee are grouped into four distinct categorizations: congressional oversight, modernizing the legislative process, congressional continuity, and updating House office buildings—the latter is the focus of the AIA.

The recommendations categorized under “Innovative Workplaces, Historic Spaces: Modernizing House Office Buildings” focus on accessibility, implementing new technologies, and making offices spaces more flexible and inclusive, in promotion of democratic ideals such as transparency. The full list of these approved suggestions is:

  • Improve navigating the campus: To improve wayfinding, the House should consult with internal and external experts to assess and implement navigation improvements necessary to make it easier for visitors to find their way through the Capitol campus.
  • Survey house employees: The House should regularly survey House employees to assess plans for telework and use of office space
  • Digital displays for hearings and events: The House should provide digital signage displaying information about current public hearings and events.
  • Inventory existing space: The House should study the use of its space to understand how it is used, who controls access to various spaces, and how it is managed in the House and the Capitol.
  • Offer expanded options for meeting space: The House should establish and designate shared meeting spaces that will allow for members and staff to use on a drop-in basis and not require reservations.
  • Portal for all reservable space: The House should develop an app and expand the current web portal to include all reservable space in the Capitol and House Office Buildings.
  • Establishing procedures for communicating with members and staff prior to modern new construction: [Architect of the Capitol] and [Committee on House Administration] should jointly establish procedures to ensure new projects are modern, functional, and meet the needs of members and constituents.
  • Establishing procedures for communicating with members and staff during construction: AOC and CHA should jointly establish procedures to demonstrate projects underway are modern, functional, and meet the needs of members and constituents.
  • Flexible and modern member office templates: The CAO should provide a broad menu of furniture options and templates for member office space that considers modern and flexible design and function concepts.
  • Flex hearing space: The House should identify and develop a space that can be used to hold hearings with alternative seating formats such as a roundtable-style.

“Promoting effective, collaborative, and healthy workplaces on Capitol Hill supports good governance, which benefits all of us,” Irwin said in a statement. “We can be good stewards of these historic spaces while sensitively integrating modern updates to facilitate the technology-fueled pace of work.”

When, and if, these approved recommendations will be implemented remains to be seen. Other recent renovations to the U.S. Capitol building, completed earlier this year repaired damage from the January 6, 2021 insurrection.