Explore by Timeline: The Modern Era (1945-1979)
Hoover Commission Recommends Creation of General Services Office
With the critical demand for office space in the aftermath of World War II, the Hoover Commission identified the need for a centralized support service for the federal government, “the most gigantic business on earth,” and recommends the creation of an Office of General Services.
U.S. General Services Administration Established
The Federal Property and Administrative Services Act passed in 1949, creating the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to “simplify the procurement, utilization, and disposal of government property.” When GSA was created, all real-property operations were placed in the newly formed Public Buildings Service (PBS). W.E. Reynolds became the first commissioner of public buildings. GSA implemented a $40 million federal building planning program that had been authorized by the Public Buildings Act of 1949.
In 1954, a lease-purchase program for public buildings was implemented, under which private investors would finance public buildings. The government would then lease the building for a set time before purchasing it. Out of this program it became policy for private architects to design public buildings, and the Public Buildings Service of GSA evolved as an administrative organization.
Public Buildings Construction Act
During the 1950s, the role of the government went from designer to administrator of public buildings. Private firms were selected based on their credentials, and public architecture began mimicking private office buildings. In 1956, the title of supervising architect was changed to assistant commissioner for design and construction, reflecting this shift.
Five years after it was implemented, the lease-purchase program had attracted few investors and the program was declared obsolete. The Public Buildings Construction Act of 1959 stipulated that construction funds would require separate legislation. GSA began preparing for its biggest building program since the Great Depression. Between 1961 and 1962, over 7.7 million square feet of federal office space was added.
Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture Issued
During his inaugural parade in January 1961, President John F. Kennedy noticed the blighted condition of the buildings lining Pennsylvania Avenue. As a result, the Ad Hoc Committee on Federal Office Space was formed to advise the president on government space needs. In 1962, the committee issued its findings, which included a report on the Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture. The committee found that federal office space was inefficient and wasteful, and that problems included “overcrowding, poor lighting, and poor ventilation [which were] not conducive to efficient work performance . . .” In an attempt to improve federal buildings, the committee recommended architecture that would convey the “dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the American Government.”
Though some were heeded, the committee’s recommendations were open to the interpretation of GSA officials responsible for design and construction. There was noticeable improvement to federal building design in Washington, but it does not appear that the initiative saw widespread implementation in other regions. Regardless, the 1960s was a major construction era for federal buildings, which continued to emulate their private counterparts.
National Historic Preservation Act Passed
The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) passed in 1966. Responding to the destruction of historic resources in post-WWII America, the NHPA established a framework for preservation. It created the National Register of Historic Places, established the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and fostered the system by which federal agencies survey and identify significant places. Sections 106 and 110 of the act require agencies to evaluate and consider historic resources impacted by federal construction projects.
Art in Architecture Program Established
GSA had commissioned art for new government buildings sporadically during the 1960s. The agency’s art program was reintroduced as the Art in Architecture Program in 1972. Since then, GSA has commissioned nearly 500 of the nation’s leading artists. GSA reserves one-half of one percent of the estimated construction cost of each new federal building to commission project artists. The resulting artworks enhance the civic meaning of federal architecture and showcase the vibrancy of American visual arts. Together, the art and architecture of federal buildings create a lasting cultural legacy for the people of the United States.
Public Buildings Cooperative Use Act
The Public Buildings Cooperative Use Act became law on October 18, 1976. It authorized GSA to encourage the public use of public buildings for cultural, educational, and recreational activities, many of which had previously been banned, in an effort to revitalize downtowns.
Design Excellence Program CreatedGSA's Design Excellence Program, under which select federal buildings are designed by masters of contemporary architecture, was created in 1994. The program has resulted in dramatic improvements in the design of federal buildings and the positive perceptions Americans have of their government.
Executive Order 13006In 1996, Executive Order 13006, "Locating Federal Facilities on Historic Properties in our Nation's Central Cities," broadened the federal policies of historic building stewardship and of locating in central business areas to promote the location of federal facilities in urban historic districts. A focus of PBS portfolio strategy today is to work with communities to satisfy federal stewardship goals and customer needs within an urban planning framework that contributes to the revitalization of historic downtown areas.
Executive Order 13287
On March 3, 2003, President Bush signed Executive Order 13287 - Preserve America. The order calls on the federal government to protect, enhance and use historic properties owned by the government; to build partnerships with state and local governments, Indian tribes, and the private sector through the use of historic properties to promote local economic development; to maintain accurate information on federal historic properties and their condition; and to seek opportunities to increase public benefit from federally owned historic properties, including heritage tourism.