The announcement on November 22 that Leslie Shepherd, AIA, acting chief architect for the U.S. General Services Administration, would officially be the agency's new chief architect brought an end to a lengthy selection process that, at times, bordered on the controversial. Speculation this fall that classicist Thomas Gordon Smith, a professor of architecture at Notre Dame who is also in private practice in Indiana, would be appointed to the position caused modernists to sweat and traditionalists to rejoice.
Shepherd, whose GSA career spans 18 years beginning in the agency's San Francisco regional office, downplays the controversy, saying that the GSA does not favor one architectural style over another. “If you look at the GSA's overall inventory, there is a balance of traditional and modernist architecture,” Shepherd said in an exclusive interview with BD+C. “The guiding principles of federal architecture don't state an official style—nothing is predetermined. We just want to do the very best we can.”
Acknowledging the importance of diversity in the design of GSA projects, Shepherd announced that in fall 2007 he will convene a national symposium that will focus on federal architectural principles and styles. A Steering Committee will start working on the symposium agenda in January, he said.
The GSA's Design Excellence Program will continue, says Shepherd, who has been involved with the program almost from its inception, but with a slight shift in focus. “In the last year or so, we've concentrated on high-performing buildings. We have to reduce overall energy consumption of the entire GSA inventory over the next 10 years,” says Shepherd, referring to the Energy Performance Act of 2005.
Shepherd said that LEED Silver will continue to be the agency's goal, but that a few recent projects, such as the new courthouse in Eugene, Ore., and the new U.S. Census Bureau facility in Suitland, Md., achieved LEED Gold.
BIM will also figure heavily into the GSA's projects, having become a design contract requirement since September. The GSA's contracts account for about $1.2 to $1.5 billion annually. Upcoming projects include the U.S. courthouse in Toledo, Ohio, designed by Mehrdad Yazdani, and the Harrisburg, Pa., courthouse, designed by Polshek Partnership Architects.
Material costs and availability have plagued GSA projects in the last year or so. “It's had a big impact on us and our ability to predict the cost of a building,” says Shepherd. “Our credibility is at stake.” Shepherd considers himself an optimist, however. “We'll start to see projects come in on budget during the next year,” he says. He adds that, as a result of the experience of the last few years, he's made a few adjustments to how the agency calculates project cost escalations. “In the past we used a flat 3% escalation rate, and that's not working for us anymore,” he says. “Rather than using a national escalation rate, we're now using an escalation rate based on locality. We're going into the market to determine the specific climate there.”
The biggest change now that he has officially assumed the role of chief architect? “I'm doing all these interviews,” he says.