Photo Tour – Harrisburg Capitol Building

As I mentioned last year, I’m doing more and more with the American Institute of Architects (the AIA), both locally, regionally and nationally. It’s part of the reason that I don’t blog about things until months after I do them anymore. One important role of the AIA is to advocate for all architects and support legislation that is supportive for the profession. That’s why the organization moved its headquarters to Washington, D.C. from New York City 50 years ago, to have a louder voice in influencing national legislation.

But all politics is local, which is why regional and local chapters of the AIA organize their own lobbying days. Pennsylvania’s is called Architects Action Day and was on March 22nd this year. I took the trip out to Harrisburg with some of my peers to make a pitch to our legislators about what issues are important to us.


Architects are responsible for the Health, Safety and Welfare of the occupants of their buildings, and that’s the common thread of the issues that the AIA supports. Perhaps the clearest example of that out of the eight issues that we were briefed on is that of Building Codes. Currently, the most recent complete version of the International Building Code that Pennsylvania follows dates back to 2009. More recent codes have been issued in 2012 and 2015, and will be released in 2018. Basically, Pennsylvania is more than 10 years behind the times when it comes to following the building code that is designed to make buildings safer and more accessible. Legislators seem to be focused on the frustrating seemingly incongruous aspects of the code. They don’t want their business owners to have their money get tied up in making the buildings they already own have to comply with the code, primarily for accessibility reasons, and they don’t want Pennsylvanians to be held to the same standards as places in hurricane or earthquake regions. As someone who has to read and anticipate how codes are interpreted, I’m sensitive to these arguments. But the state is actually only muddying the waters by failing to adopt the most current codes in full. The state picks and chooses provisions of the new code to adopt, creating a byzantine code that is entirely different from the standards of neighboring states, which actually makes it more difficult to comply, not less. The end result is that new construction in Pennsylvania are built to be less safe and more forbidding to people with disabilities.

Another thing that building codes address is energy efficiency and sustainability. By and large, the AIA supports green building construction because it’s not only healthier for the environment but for the occupants. There were a few issues on the docket this year that primarily dealt with sustainability concerns, like supporting the initiative that new state-owned buildings be constructed to high-performance standards. There was a pair of issues that dealt with Pennsylvania’s schools, with the AIA advising lawmakers on how to streamline the process for getting new schools approved and built and opposing the idea of stock schools. There was also support for defending our professional rights and responsibilities, with legislation dealing with: continuing education (making sure all architects are well versed in current best practices), mechanics lien (giving architects another legal avenue to explore when they don’t get paid), student loan debt (allowing architects to offset the debt by doing pro-bono work), and professional services tax (opposed, duh).

So should I get on with the photo tour, or do a more thorough explanation of the issues?


Alright, well the reason that stock schools are not right for Pennsylvania is because our children deserve more than an off-the shelf solution. Not only that, but stock schools often fail to realize any cost savings due to the fact that the site must be adapted to them before they can be built, and moving earth is an expensive process. For further proof, consider this: we’ve had a stock plan book available to school boards for years and nobody uses it.

Alright, you’ve suffered enough. Pretty pictures time.


One of the first things to catch my attention was all the mosaic tile pictures on the floor. There are over 400 of them depicting the state’s animals and plants and historic events in the state’s history.



There’s a great article in the Post-Gazette if you want to learn more about the tiles and about Henry Chapman Mercer, the man who designed and laid the floor.

It would be easy to miss the tiles if you spent your time looking up, not only at the impressive dome, but at the other details throughout the offices.





I also kept having my eye drawn to the abundance of seals and insignia everywhere. Some in elevators, on doors and doorknobs, just hanging out in offices.




Also, fun note: I’m pretty sure that they had to update all the doorknobs with that lever as a result of accessibility codes. Maybe that’s why they don’t want any more updates, they’ve already been burned once for a bunch of brass levers.


That’s it from the capitol. I just spent some time in Orlando for this year’s Conference on Architecture. The last time I went to a national conference they still called it “convention”. Hopefully it takes me less than a month to write that up, but in case it does you can refresh yourself on the convention, er, conference experience by reading my posts from when I went to D.C. and Denver.