Contemporary architecture is often defined as the architecture of the current time. The defining aspects of late 20th century to early 21st century architecture are steel beam construction, extensive use of glass and minimal decoration. On Capitol Hill, the most predominate architectural influence of the early 21st century is sustainable design. This philosophy is design that limits the impact on the environment while maximizing energy efficiency and other natural resource usage.
On Capitol Hill, the Architect of the Capitol has embraced the principles of sustainable design in the ongoing planning, building, operations and maintenance of the facilities and grounds entrusted to our care. These practices include improving energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.
The most recent significant architectural addition to Capitol Hill is the Capitol Visitor Center (CVC), which opened in December 2008. The CVC included a number of sustainable design elements in its architecture and construction.
The Capitol Visitor Center was designed to incorporate as many sustainable and low-impact features as possible within the constraints of its unique requirements. The Visitor Center was built below an existing plaza, and is a “redevelopment” of an urban site which has not increased the amount of hard surfaces relative to run-off. The East Capitol Grounds are greener now that landscaping is completed with a total of 85 new trees planted (more than were removed for construction) to revive the scenic views envisioned in Frederick Law Olmsted’s original landscape plan of 1874.
Additionally state-of-the-art high-efficiency fans and motors were used for mechanical systems and use outside air for cooling in place of chilled water when the outdoor temperature is 60 degrees and below. Light fixture occupancy sensors have been installed throughout office spaces and restrooms and compact fluorescent fixtures are used wherever possible.
Other features include low-flow bathroom fixtures and automatic faucets and toilets; low-emitting materials including paints, solvents and carpets used during construction; recycling of 50 percent of construction waste; and six skylights allow natural light to fill many public areas, thereby decreasing the need for electric lighting during daytime hours.
In upcoming architectural projects the AOC will continue to adopt national best practices in design and construction such as those developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.