Monday, January 23, 2006

We miss you, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Two articles have been recommended recently that have illustrated the loss that Architecture in America has suffered with the departure of the late Gentleman from New York. While researching for extended posts on the GSA pilot programs for BIM modeling, DYWSC? found this article written for the law community. Reporter Daniel Brook does a top-notch job explaining how the United States federal government has evolved over the last half century as an architectural client, and gives due credit to Mr. Moynihan’s forward-leaning leadership. From the article…
IN 1962, THEN-ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF LABOR Daniel Patrick Moynihan was given the task of writing a memo on the topic of federal office space. Moynihan's boss, Labor Secretary Arthur Goldberg, was concerned that despite the continuing growth of the federal government, no major public building projects had been undertaken in Washington, D.C., since the 1930s. Not satisfied with the confines of the assignment, the ambitious young staffer appended to his memo a manifesto he called "Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture."

[Twenty years later, a new type of design competition was held for the new federal courthouse in Boston, on Fan Peir.] Impressed with the applicants but unsure whom to pick, [now US Supreme Court associate Justice, Stephen] Breyer and [U.S. District Judge Douglas] Woodlock made a road trip. The pair flew to New York City to take in [Cesar] Pelli's World Financial Center in lower Manhattan, then drove a rental car to [Henry] Cobb's Commerce Square office buildings in Philadelphia, with a stop midway down the New Jersey Turnpike at Robert Venturi's Wu Hall on the Princeton University campus. From Philadelphia, the judges flew to Ottawa to tour [Moshe] Safdie's National Gallery of Canada before returning to Boston. "We wanted to kick the tires," Woodlock said. "When the ribbons had been clipped and the party was over, how did the people who actually lived in it feel about living in it?"

Having narrowed the field to seven finalists, the Boston judges asked each to present a half-day seminar on courthouse architecture. Cobb's presentation focused on the Hanover County Courthouse, a one-room colonial courthouse in Virginia. Distinguished by its series of redbrick arches, the modest building manages to declare itself an important public building without using imperious architectural forms like a Pantheon-sized atrium or a Versailles-scale iron gate. Cobb won the commission and became a hands-on leader. "During the construction he was out there laying bricks, practically," Breyer said.

Having seen that top-notch architects could be wooed to apply for federal commissions, the GSA's Feiner went about ensuring that this type of selection process would be used nationwide. To justify a change of policy within the GSA, he seized on the Moynihan memo. By the early 1990s when [GSA Chief Architect Ed] Feiner was trying to push his changes through, Moynihan was an elder statesman and as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, he was responsible for legislative oversight of the GSA. "If you had to find a patron saint," Feiner said, "he was a good one."
Now Metropolis Magazine has run an interview with the late senator’s daughter, who is a senior fellow in charge of running the Friends of Moynihan Station at the Regional Planning Association. This article is a good read for those who are interested in see how the $800 million Mr. Moynihan secured in 1998 will be spent. Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg jointly announced that the name of new Pennsylvania Station at Farley Post Office in New York City will honor Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He died on March 26th 2003.


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