Profile: Architect of the Capitol
The roles and responsibilities of the Architect of the Capitol cover an expansive and diverse portfolio.
Since the laying of the Capitol cornerstone by George Washington in 1793, the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) has served the United States as builder and steward of many of the nation's most iconic landmarks. These include the U.S. Capitol, Capitol Visitor Center, Senate Office Buildings, House Office Buildings, Supreme Court, Library of Congress, U.S. Botanic Garden and Capitol Grounds.
The AOC is responsible to the United States Congress and the Supreme Court for the maintenance, operation, development and preservation of 17.4 million square feet of buildings and more than 553 acres of land throughout Capitol Hill. The AOC also provides professional expertise on the preservation of architectural and artistic elements entrusted to its care, and provides recommendations concerning design, construction and maintenance of the facilities and grounds.
NoteStreams By Architect of the Capitol
The Capitol Christmas Tree tradition has been an AOC responsibility for nearly 50 years. In 1964, House Speaker John W. McCormack suggested to Architect of the Capitol George Stewart that a Christmas tree be placed on the U.S. Capitol Grounds. That year, a live 24-foot Douglas fir was purchased for $700 from Buddies Nurseries of Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, and was planted on the West Front lawn. Learn more about this long-standing tradition! Includes video of the 2014 Lighting.
The Grant Memorial sits in silent, yet powerful repose beneath the shadow of the U.S. Capitol Dome, serving as a timeless sentinel to the heroism, valor, strength and also the anguish our nation endured when it was torn apart by the Civil War. During the war, the Capitol was briefly used by Union troops as soldiers' quarters, a hospital and even a bakery. Today, millions of visitors approach the large bronze and marble memorial that honors the Civil War general, Ulysses S. Grant, whose victories as a military strategist are credited with saving the Union and who later became our nation's 18th president.
Capitol Hill, with its rich history and iconic buildings, allows for an eclectic mix of professions. Jim Saenger, the Capitol’s Carillonneur, has perhaps one of the most unique and least visible jobs on the Hill. His contractual agreement with the Architect of the Capitol, directed by the 1963 Senate Concurrent Resolution 25, states that he must annually play the Taft Carillon on July Fourth at 2 p.m. His recent interview with Erin Nelson, writer/editor for the Architect of the Capitol, provided a glimpse into his life as the Capitol’s Carillonneur and an education on the carillon itself.
As Congress meets in the halls of the U.S. Capitol, a small group of AOC employees toil in the heat a few hundred yards away to help a living national treasure thrive in an urban center. This is the National Garden at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Conceived as an outdoor laboratory for gardening in harmony with natural ecosystems, the National Garden opened to the public on October 1, 2006. It provides “living laboratories” for environmental, horticultural and botanical education in a contemplative setting.
In a world where everyone carries a cell phone and some carry more than one, it is surprising that people still check the historic clocks on the Capitol campus for the time of day. The Architect of the Capitol is responsible for the maintenance of most of the clocks on Capitol Hill. It’s a big job.