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History of the Architect of the Capitol

History of the Architect of the Capitol

Dr. William Thornton

 The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) is the builder and steward of America’s Capitol, serving Congress and the Supreme Court, creating a home for American democracy. The AOC traces its beginnings to 1791. Today, the AOC is comprised of approximately 2,300 employees who serve Congress and the Supreme Court in a variety of occupations.

The Architect of the Capitol has a legacy and ancestry that is rooted in the very beginnings of the capital city of the United States, today known as Washington, D.C. In 1791 President George Washington appointed three commissioners to provide suitable buildings and accommodations for Congress. The commissioners hired Pierre L’Enfant to lay out the city, and staged a competition for the design of the Capitol. The commissioners awarded Dr. William Thornton for his design and today he is often credited as the first “architect of the capitol.” In 1793, George Washington laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol Building.

The first official use of the title “Architect of the Capitol” referring to the both person and the agency was on March 30, 1867 when Edward Clark was named Architect of the Capitol through legislation. Clark had previously held the title “Architect of the Capitol Extension” as had his predecessor Thomas U. Walter, who had added both the north and south extensions and the new dome to the Capitol building during the 1850s and early 1860s.

The title was subsequently dropped following Clark’s death in 1902 and Elliot Woods was appointed as the “Superintendent of the Capitol Buildings and Grounds.” However, in 1921 the title Architect of the Capitol was awarded to Woods for meritorious service. Following Woods, the title Architect of the Capitol has remained the official title of both the person and the agency, and has been held by five men.

The current Architect of the Capitol, Stephen T. Ayers, was nominated on February 24, 2010, by President Barack Obama to serve as the 11th Architect of the Capitol. On May 12, 2010, the United States Senate, by unanimous consent, confirmed Ayers, and on May 13, 2010, the President officially appointed Ayers to a 10-year term as Architect of the Capitol.