Upon the occasion of the formal dedication of the Philip E. Hart Senate Office Building, with Alexander Calder's grand sculpture in its central rotunda, The Post referred once again to the building as the "marble monstrosity" with its "high cost and lavish design."
From the very start, a few vocal, self-interested senators became opponents of the project. They were dead set against expansion of Senate offices in spite of the existing cramped space and crowded rented facilities. And the press was only interested in making headlines for those senators. The real story did not make news.
An earlier long-range plan made in the mid-1950s called for expanding the Dirksen building to house approximately 25 more senators. By 1972, when John Carl Warnecke & Associates were retained as architects, the plan had been changed. Our instructions from the Senate Office Building Commission were to design a new structure to house half the senators. We were supposed to maximize the amount of office space, but also to design a building that was in keeping with the scale and special character of the buildings around the Capitol.
The press that followed the progress of the building ignored the fact that the building's size increased nearly 100 percent from 650,000 square feet to 1.1 million square feet. It referred only to the large increase in costs, which became the basis of criticism by opponents of the projects in their efforts to kill it.
During the construction, the press continued to pick up on what appeared as major cost overruns. Some of the headlines and stories that followed were: "Cost of Hart Office Building Has Some Senators Fuming"; "Cost 10 Times as Much as the Louisiana Purchase"; "Senate Set to Squander Your Tax Money on Office Building"; "The Senate's New Pleasure Dome"; "Splendor for Senators"; "The Palace of the Senators"; "The Splendor of the Nation's Capitol Usually Wins"; and "Will the New Senate Office Building Be More Expensive Than the Rayburn Building?"
The architect of the Capitol, George White, tried to explain the term "cost overrun" as it is normally used in the construction industry, but the press was not interested in learning about the details and true costs of the building. Thus the illusion that Hart is the most extravagant, wasteful and expensive building ever built on the Hill still prevails five years after it was first occupied.
Hart was actually completed at exceptionally low building cost, even though its opponents succeeded in putting the project on ice for two years. The House of Representatives voted in August 1978 to kill the project, even though it was under construction.
Of equal damage to the building's reputation and original budget was the fact that construction costs were caught in an inflationary spiral; building costs in Washington over the period increased 76 percent. To the great credit of the architect of the Capitol, backed up by the members of the Senate Office Building Commission and the special effort of Sen. Bennett Johnston, we were able to hold the costs down and construct Hart at an increase of only 67 percent.
The Hart building was built at a total hard construction cost of $107 million, and not the $135 million figure -- which included administrative costs, fees and furnishings -- that the press used. Actually, change orders of all types were held to a little over 2 percent for the entire eight-year period of construction. Thus it was built at a cost of only $97 a square foot, which was well below the costs of any other major public building built in the District during that period. The net result is that Hart stands today as the lowest-cost building ever built on Capitol Hill. If some of the older buildings had been built during the same period that Hart was built, they would have cost up to two times as much.
Hart has turned out to be the most popular building from both the senators' and their staffs' point of view. Because it is composed of modern, efficient office suites, it works much better for the senators than the Russell and Dirksen buildings, where offices are inefficiently spread out along public corridors. Time after time, senators given the choice of buildings have opted for Hart.
Hart stands today as a successful neighbor of the many buildings that comprise the special architecture of the Hill. It is of a conservative, contemporary design that adheres to classical scale and proportions. It was built to last 100 years or more. It also possesses a sense of serenity and dignity befitting its namesake, Philip E. Hart. -- John Carl Warnecke The writer's architectural firm, John Carl Warnecke & Associates, designed the Hart Senate Office Building.