Robert A.M. Stern Architects LLP
Richmond Court builds out.

“I think we can do a little bit  more  to make sure that the process is as ‘outreaching’ as possible,” says Winstead, PBS chief since October 2005. The aim would be to avoid any barriers that might cause firms not to pursue GSA work because they feel they are too small or lack resources to assemble proposals.

In construction, time is money, and lately price hikes for steel and other materials “have been extreme, sometimes twice the CPI” or worse, Winstead says. Robert Andrukonis, director of GSA’s Center for Courthouse Programs, said federal guidelines require GSA to base project cost estimates on average inflation in recent years. Unexpected price hikes can cause GSA to ask Congress for additional funds.

It’s no surprise that Winstead wants to accelerate the architect selection process. Under the program, a board composed of GSA and private-sector members reviews submissions from design firms and draws up a short list. After studying the firms’ additional submissions, the panel ranks them and GSA selects a winner.

Worries about the strength of GSA’s future support for the program were inevitable when former GSA Chief Architect Ed Feiner, seen as Design Excellence’s moving force, retired in early 2005, says Andrew Goldberg, the American Institute of Architects’ manager of federal regulatory affairs. It didn’t help that it took GSA 21 months to name Feiner’s successor. But Goldberg says the eventual choice, veteran GSA official Les Shepherd, indicates the agency is committed to Design Excellence.

“Look at the crowd,” Winstead said at the forum. “I think the real challenge is to get as many people involved that can do business for us...and to move it along as quickly as possible.”

s the crowd of more than 300 that gathered in Washington for a June 1 General Services Administration forum on courthouse architecture would seem to indicate, GSA’s 13-year-old Design Excellence program has lots of fans. David L. Winstead, commissioner of GSA’s Public Buildings Service, says the program “has worked extremely well,” drawing prominent architects to design many new courthouses and other buildings. But Winstead also says GSA may modify the program to attract a wider range of firms and speed up the process of selecting architects for new projects.