Edward A. Feiner, FAIA, who, as Chief Architect in the General Services Administration, led the effort to make Federal buildings beautiful as well as functional, is retiring at the end of January to enter the private sector.
Feiner, 58, joined the GSA in 1981 after stints in private practice and with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command. Appointed Chief Architect in 1996, he launched an agency-wide effort to elevate the design of government buildings. The GSA's Design Excellence Program brought in name designers — among them Richard Meier, Ralph Johnson, Carol Ross Barney, Henry Cobb, Bill Hellmuth, Moshe Safdie, Frances Halsbrand, Thom Mayne, Charles Gwathmey — and gave them room to create Federal courthouses, office buildings, and laboratories that rivaled anything the private sector could produce.
Feiner was known for his flamboyance and energy — his signature Tony Lama boots, military brush hairstyle, and strong Bronx, N.Y., accent set him apart from most government officials who operate inside the Beltway. Those who worked with him respected his creative abilities, his deep-seated passion for excellence in design, and his ability to navigate the political waters of Washington.
"Ed is one of those lucky people who found his calling," said Mayne, principal of San Francisco-based Morphosis, who designed the new Federal office building in San Francisco. "He changed the whole culture of architecture in the government, and its relationship to the public.
"He had the desire, intensity, and knowledge that it took to produce diverse buildings all over the country, and behind it all, there's a phenomenal character, a very funny man with this insane amount of energy and immense integrity."
Raymond F. Messer, P.E., president and chair of Houston-based contractor Walter P. Moore, said Feiner is "unique, unforgettable, perhaps irreplaceable." Messer called Feiner "a champion of design and construction excellence like no one had ever been before. His impact on Federal buildings has been profound."
Douglas L. Steidl, FAIA, president of the American Institute of Architects, praised Feiner for re-establishing the Federal government as a player in "creating public spaces that enhance communities and enrich the lives of citizens."
Tod Rittenhouse, P.E., a principal with structural engineer Weidlinger Associates, New York, N.Y., recalled Feiner as a tough taskmaster. "When you thought you had presented your best design, Ed would push for more," said Rittenhouse. "He was not just an advocate for architectural excellence for the GSA, he was an advocate for design excellence period."
Also retiring at the end of the month is Marilyn Farley, Feiner's aide-de-camp and director of the Design Excellence Program.