On November 28th, 2018, the United States Capitol Historical Society (USCHS) presented the 2018 Freedom Award to the office of the Architect of the Capitol. Christine Merdon, Acting Architect of the Capitol, accepted the award on the agency’s behalf. The evening’s ceremony also featured the unveiling of the official portrait of retiring 11th Architect of the Capitol, the Honorable Stephen T. Ayers, FAIA, CCM, LEED AP.
Following the Presentation of the Colors by the U.S. Capitol Police Ceremonial Unit and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, the program was opened by USCHS Trustee Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. “It is an incredible building with an incredible heritage and incredible story told every day. It wouldn’t be an easy thing to sign up to be responsible for that building… but that’s what Stephen Ayers decided to do.” Following his remarks Senator Blunt unveiled the portrait.
Mr. Ayers spoke of his appreciation for the Society: “We work together to award scholarships to academic researchers and have added significantly to the documented history of the Capitol over the years. We partner with [the Society] on a fabulous program to provide tours, lunch and content to at-risk children right here in Washington, D.C. We work together to bring academics, pundits, politicians, writers, researchers and personalities to the Capitol to provide enlightening content to the public … and so, so much more.” He spoke warmly about his service as Architect: “the real honor has been working with the incredibly talented men and women of the Architect of the Capitol. From a passion, commitment, talent, service and leadership perspective, there are none better on the face of the earth.”
USCHS Trustee Jeanne de Cervens then transitioned the event into the Freedom Award portion of the evening. Remarking on the history of the Award, she pointed out that “In recent years, we have honored journalist Cokie Roberts, congressional stalwarts Daniel Inouye and John Dingell, filmmaker Ken Burns, Cabinet Secretaries William Cohen and Norman Mineta, civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis, historian David McCullough, and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.” Ms. de Cervens then introduced her fellow USCHS Trustee Jean Bordewich to speak more on the unique role and important heritage of the office of the Architect of the Capitol.
Ms. Bordewich noted that “the Architect of the Capitol is faced with a constant dual-mandate: to maintain an efficient, effective, and state-of-the-art office complex for the legislative branch of our federal government, and to preserve this historic edifice and its many important works of art, while making it as fully open to the public as possible. It’s not easy, but they do it with extremely well.” She then introduced Ms. Merdon to make some remarks in acceptance of the award.
“The men and women of our agency are humble and dedicated people who serve Congress and the Supreme Court, preserve America’s Capitol, and inspire incredible memories on a daily basis.” Meditating on the scope of their work – and the assets at their disposal – Ms. Merdon shared: “I like to think of this work as three ‘P’s: People, Projects, and Preservation. This award honors our most important agency resource: our people. It’s wonderful to hear the essential work of the Architect of the Capitol being acknowledged and celebrated. We have some of the most talented and widely admired architects, tradesmen, artists, engineers, and scholars and I’m proud to have some of them here tonight.”
Society Chairman Donald Carlson closed the program by recognizing event donors – Bank of America, The American Institute of Architects, and the American Society of Civil Engineers – and other special guests including three Architects of the Capitol: The Honorable Alan Hantman, 10th Architect of the Capitol, Mr. Ayers, and Ms. Merdon. Each of the Architects were presented with a USCHS replica of the Capitol made from reclaimed marble taken from Capitol steps during the 1995 restoration.
C-SPAN was on hand to record the evening’s proceedings for their American History TV program. The full video can be seen at the following link:
About the Freedom Award
The U.S. Capitol Historical Society created its Freedom Award to recognize outstanding efforts in the advancement of greater public understanding and appreciation for freedom, democracy, and civic engagement as represented by the U.S. Capitol and Congress. First presented on September 17, 1993, the eve of the 200th anniversary of the laying of the U.S. Capitol cornerstone by George Washington, the award is named for the statue that graces the Capitol dome.