1.2 General Design Philosophy

Census Bureau
U.S. Census Bureau, Bowie, MD.

As addressed in Appendix A2, all program goals shall be developed with integrated design practices. The following objectives are to be reflected in project programming and design:

Design Quality
GSA is committed to excellence in the design and development of its sites and buildings. For GSA, this means an integrated approach that achieves the highest quality of aesthetics in meeting the requirements of the building’s users and accomplishing the mission of the Federal client agency, while at the same time delivering a building that is cost effective to maintain throughout its useful life and is a lasting architectural legacy that will serve the American people for many decades.

Most of the interaction between the Government and its citizens occurs in GSA buildings. Federal buildings express the image of the Government to the public. The Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture, written in 1962 by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then Special Assistant to the Secretary of Labor, and issued by the Kennedy Administration, embody GSA’s commitment to produce quality design and construction. See Figure 1-1.

Design Excellence and Construction Excellence
The GSA Design Excellence Program was formally initiated in 1994 and the Construction Excellence Program in 1998. These programs ensure GSA’s long-term commitment to excellence in public architecture, engineering, and construction. The selection of private sector architects and engineers who design GSA facilities is based foremost on their talent, creativity, and ingenuity.

The entire architect/engineer (A/E) design team must demonstrate its ability to satisfy the comprehensive project development and management requirements of the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). The Design Excellence Program incorporates peer professional in the selection of A/E design teams and the review of proposed designs. The peer professionals are distinguished architects, engineers, landscape architects, urban designers, public arts administrators, design educators and critics from across the Nation.

The main goal of the Design Excellence Program is to realize the objectives of the Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture. The main goal of the Construction Excellence Program is to ensure that GSA’s construction program delivers exceptionally well-built facilities economically, efficiently, and professionally. Like the Design Excellence Program, the Construction Excellence Program depends on a strong working relationship with the private sector design and construction community.

Flexibility and Adaptability
Federal buildings undergo many changes during their lifetime. As government missions change and priorities change, Federal agencies are created, expanded, and abolished. As a consequence, requirements for space and services change frequently, and space must be recon-figured often. The flexibility to accommodate continual change needs to be “built in” to the building design from the outset and respected in subsequent alterations. Systems flexibility is necessary in GSA buildings.

Sustainability and Energy Performance
GSA is committed to incorporating principles of sustainable design and energy efficiency into all of its building projects. Sustainable design seeks to design, construct and operate buildings to reduce negative impact on the environment and the consumption of natural resources. Sustainable design improves building performance while keeping in mind the health and comfort of building occupants. It is an integrated, synergistic approach, in which all phases of the facility lifecycle are considered. The result is an optimal balance of cost, environmental, societal and human benefits while meeting the mission and function of the intended facility or infrastructure.

It is imperative that Federal Facilities be designed with the objective of achieving lowest life cycle cost for the taxpayer. To do so, a project’s design program must comprehensively define reasonable scope and performance requirements, and must match those needs to an appropriate overall budget. Consistent with programming and budgetary constraints, designed building systems/ features that influence operating costs must then be analyzed and selected to achieve lowest overall life cycle cost.

Life cycle costing will always require the application of professional judgment.While life cycle cost assessments can often be based upon the merits of single system/ feature comparisons, the A/E is expected to expand the analysis to include other systems/features when necessary to establish synergistic effects and first cost trade-offs. There will also be instances where involved life cycle cost elements are not well defined within the industry, defying credible inclusion with known cost impacts. In such cases, life cycle cost comparisons must be weighed with qualitative issues when making design decisions.

Operations and Building Maintenance
Systems and materials should be selected on the basis of long-term operations and maintenance costs as those costs will be significantly higher over time than first costs. The design of the facility operating systems should ensure ease and efficiency of operation and allow for easy and cost effective maintenance and repair during the facility’s useful life.

The designer should obtain constant feedback from the building manager and other maintenance personnel during design. This collaboration will allow the facility to be designed with adequate understanding by both the designer and the building manager as to what is required for optimal life-cycle performance.

GSA requires detailed instructions from the designer stating the operational/maintenance procedures and design intent for all building systems. These instructions will be developed during the design phase and incorporated into the comprehensive training for operation and maintenance personnel.

Historic Buildings
The Historic Buildings program was formally initiated in 1998 as part of the Historic Buildings and the Arts Center of Expertise, established in 1997. The Historic Buildings program provides strategic and technical support to GSA business lines and regional project teams to promote the reuse, viability, and architectural design integrity of historic buildings GSA owns and leases. This mission requires GSA to be on the cutting edge in developing innovative design solutions that are affordable, extend the useful life of historic structures, and minimize the negative effects of changes needed to keep buildings safe, functional, and efficient.

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 mandates that Federal agencies use historic properties to the greatest extent possible and strive to rehabilitate them in a manner that preserves their architectural character, in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Nearly one-fourth of the space in GSA’s owned inventory is in historic buildings. Regional Historic Preservation Officers coordinate external design reviews required under the Act and serve as first points of contact within each region to ensure that projects follow the Secretary’s Standards while satisfying GSA’s functional requirements.

Principal goals of the Historic Buildings program are to realize the objectives of the National Historic Preservation Act by: a) developing strategies that enable reuse of GSA’s historic buildings and b) developing creative design solutions to resolve conflicts between preservation, codes, and functional requirements of modern office use. The program depends on the integral involvement of preservation design professionals in the A/E team throughout design development and project execution and on effective coordination between the design team, GSA preservation staff, and outside review groups.

GSA has a policy of incorporating fine art into the design of new Federal buildings and in major repair and alterations of existing Federal buildings. One half of one percent of the estimated construction cost is reserved for commissioning works by living artists. These works are acquired through a commissioning process that involves public participation by art professionals, community representatives (including the primary client), and the architect of the building. The A/E team has a responsibility to work with GSA to ensure that the art is an integral component of the building.

Urban Design and Community Development
GSA is committed to maximizing the returns on its Federal real estate investment and to leveraging its investments in ways that support communities, wherever possible. Collaboration with local officials, neighboring property owners, residents, and appropriate interest groups is essential to shape the project in ways that provide positive benefits to the surrounding neighborhood and community.

Project teams should seek out potential issues and collaborate with local partners to solve them. Aggressive identification of issues and opportunities is necessary to minimize project risk and delay, strategize the long term use and maintenance of the facility, maximize the project’s positive impact on the community, and bring local resources to bear on delivering the best final product to GSA clients.

Issues of common interest, such as facility location, architectural and urban design, parking, transportation, and security provide significant opportunities to work to address issues. Partners should include not only city officials but other entities with relevant knowledge, concerns, or resources. Formal planning and consultation processes, such as NEPA, zoning, or Section 106, are important. But less formal planning, information sharing, and problem solving activities can be equally valuable to the project team.

First Impressions
The GSA First Impressions Program is a comprehensive, nationwide effort to improve the appearance of our public spaces. The main goal of First Impressions is to ensure that programs like GSA’s Design Excellence, Construction Excellence and routine facilities repairs and alterations incorporate the interdependence between design, function and visual appeal of the buildings’ common elements.

Integrated Workplace/Productivity
To provide physical work environments that will enhance work flow, GSA uses the concept of the Integrated Workplace. As defined by Franklin Becker of Cornell University and Michael Joroff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

It is a system that creatively combines wisdom about the nature of physical settings (where the work is conducted); the information technologies used in the performance of work (how data, opinions, and ideas are accessed, processed, and communicated); the nature of work patterns and processes (when and how tasks must be performed to achieve business objectives); and finally organizational culture and management (the formal and informal values, exceptions, policies, and behaviors that influence all the other factors).

Productivity (individual and group performance) is greatly affected by the working environment. GSA strives to provide workplace environments that physically and psychologically enhance work performance.

Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture

Figure 1-1

Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture

In the course of its consideration of the general subject of Federal office space, the committee has given some thought to the need for a set of principles which will guide the Government in the choice of design for Federal buildings. The committee takes it to be a matter of general understanding that the economy and suitability of Federal office design space derive directly from the architectural design.
The belief that good design is optional, or in some way separate from the question of the provision of office space itself, does not bear scrutiny, and in fact invites the least efficient use of public money.

The design of Federal office buildings, particularly those to be located in the nation's capital, must meet a two-fold requirement. First, it must provide efficient and economical facilities for the use of Government agencies. Second, it must provide visual testimony to the dignity, enterprise, vigor and stability of the American Government.

It should be our object to meet the test of Pericles' evocation to the Athenians, which the President commended to the Massachusetts legislature in his address of January 9, 1961: “We do not imitate – for we are a model to others.”

The committee is also of the opinion that the Federal Government, no less than other public and private organizations concerned with the construction of new buildings, should take advantage of the increasingly fruitful collaboration between architecture and the fine arts. With these objects in view, the committee recommends a three point architectural policy for the Federal Government.

The policy shall be to provide requisite and adequate facilities in an architectural style and form which is distinguished and which will reflect the dignity, enterprise, vigor and stability of the American National Government. Major emphasis should be placed on the choice of designs that embody the finest contemporary American architectural thought. Specific attention should be paid to the possibilities of incorporating into such designs qualities which reflect the regional architectural traditions of that part of the Nation in which buildings are located. Where appropriate, fine art should be incorporated in the designs, with emphasis on the work of living American artists. Designs shall adhere to sound construction practice and utilize materials, methods and equipment of proven dependability. Buildings shall be economical to build, operate and maintain, and should be accessible to the handicapped.

The development of an official style must be avoided. Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government, and not vice versa. The Government should be willing to pay some additional cost to avoid excessive uniformity in design of Federal buildings. Competitions for the design of Federal buildings may be held where appropriate. The advice of distinguished architects, as a rule, ought to be sought prior to the award of important design contracts.
The choice and development of the building site should be considered the first step of the design process. This choice should be made in cooperation with local agencies. Special attention should be paid to the general ensemble of streets and public places of which Federal buildings will form a part. Where possible, buildings should be located so as to permit a generous development of landscape.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Last Reviewed: 2019-02-26