Filling Feiner's boots at the GSA

August 11, 2010

Let's start with the premise that whoever the next Chief Architect of the GSA is, that person will forever be compared to Ed Feiner. No single architect of the last two decades has made more of an imprint on the American landscape than Feiner, who recently left the GSA after 24 years (nine as Chief Architect) to join SOM's Washington, D.C., office.

Skidmore's gain is the people's loss. Cities and towns across the country have benefited from the Design Excellence program that he and GSA colleague Marilyn Farley risked their careers for. From Richard Meier's courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y., to Thom Mayne's Federal building now under construction in San Francisco, the 58-year-old Feiner made citizens proud to have a government edifice in their towns.

At a recent appearance at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Feiner said he felt confident leaving the Design Excellence program in the hands of F. Joseph Moravec, Public Buildings Service commissioner, and GSA administrator Stephen A. Perry.

Feiner said he thought the job required a true practitioner, one who possesses not only "a vision of design quality," but also business sense—as well as "the credibility within the profession" to stand up to the kinds of architects GSA is hiring these days.

So, who's gonna step into Feiner's beloved Tony Lama's? There's been talk of Richard N. Swett, an architect who once represented New Hampshire in Congress and has served as Ambassador to Denmark. Swett, a public relations consultant in D.C., would bring inside-the-Beltway savvy to the job, but he hasn't done much design lately.

Robert A.M. Stern, the New York design firm head, is equally well known as dean of the Yale School of Architecture. Then there's Swedish-born Lars Lerup, dean of the School of Architecture at Rice University, who holds degrees from UC Berkeley and Harvard's GSD. Terence Riley, chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, apparently has also been chatted up in GSA circles.

Also from academe: Karen Van Lengen, dean of architecture at the University of Virginia. Among prominent female architects, what about Chicagoan Carol Ross Barney, New Yorkers Karen Bausman and Deborah Berke, and Bostonians Carole Wedge, top gun at Shepley Bulfinch, and Joan Goody of Goody Clancy?

Of course, for most of these people, jumping into the morass that is Washington would be the last thing they'd want to think about.

So don't be surprised if interim chief architect Leslie Shepherd, who once headed professional services for GSA's San Francisco office and has been running the Design Excellence program for leased GSA buildings, gets the nod. His office is only steps from Feiner's old digs, so "relo" would not be an issue.

Who would you like to see as GSA Chief Architect? We'll be glad to pass your nomination along (anonymously, of course) to the GSA's Moravec and Perry. To cast your "vote," go online to:


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