In mid-December, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Trump’s appointment of J. Brett Blanton as the next Architect of the Capitol (AOC). While Blanton, the deputy vice president for engineering at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, is a licensed engineer, he is neither trained nor licensed as an architect. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the United States Naval Academy in aerospace, aeronautical, and astronautical engineering, and a master’s in ocean engineering from Virginia Tech.
The official role is to serve as head of the agency of the same name and be responsible for the maintenance of 18.4 million square feet across 36 buildings on Capitol Hill, including the Library of Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Capitol Visitor Center, to name a few. Blanton’s predecessor, Stephen T. Ayers, FAIA, served from 2010 to 2018, retiring shortly before the end of his 10-year term. Ayers, who won the AIA’s Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture in 2018, is best remembered for completing the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in 2008.
When news of Blanton’s confirmation broke late last year, a flurry of conversation erupted on an AIA online forum, with many architects across the country voicing their disapproval. One commenter, Montana-based architect and architecture professor Jack Smith, FAIA, tells RECORD that he finds it “entirely out of order,” on the grounds that “it is unlawful to use the name or term ‘architect’ unless one is a licensed architect.”
While state licensing boards and laws regulate and protect the title architect, the designation becomes more complicated within federal agencies, where different rules (which some might call loopholes) apply to civil servants.
“There is no statutory requirement for the head of the AOC to be a licensed architect,” Edmond Gauvreau, FAIA, a D.C.-based architect with professional knowledge of relevant governmental regulations, chimed in to the online discussion. Noting Blanton’s 20-plus years of service in the public sector, Gauvreau tells record, “He’s got the skill set they really need.”
When Blanton was sworn in as AOC on January 16, 2020, he became the 12th person to hold the position since 1793, of whom most—but not all—have been trained or licensed architects.