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Hart Senate Office Building


Sweeping legislative reorganization during the 1970s expanded the Senate staff and stimulated construction of a third office building, named for Michigan senator Philip A. Hart. Among other reforms, the Senate authorized the appointment of a minority staff for each committee and assigned senators a staff representative for each committee on which they served. Improved constituent services also increased the size of senators' personal staffs. Between the opening of the Dirksen Building in 1958 and the completion of the Hart Building in 1982, the number of Senate staff grew from 2,500 to 7,000. As the enlarged staff overflowed the two existing office buildings, the Senate acquired auxiliary space in nearby buildings that had once operated as hotels and apartment houses. It was not uncommon for committees and senators to have their staffs spread among several offices in different buildings.
When it became apparent that simply extending the Dirksen Building as originally planned would not provide sufficient space for modern legislative business, Congress instead authorized an entirely new building. After interviewing 16 firms, in 1973 Architect of the Capitol George M. White recommended a design submitted by the San Francisco-based architectural firm of John Carl Warnecke & Associates; it was approved by the Senate Committee on Public Works on August 8, 1974.
Rather than adopt the neo-classical style of the first two office buildings, the architect gave the Hart Building a more distinctly contemporary appearance, while maintaining a marble façade in keeping with its surrounding. The architects sought to design a flexible, energy-efficient building that would accommodate both the expanded staff and the new technology of the modern Senate. The building’s design also deliberately spared the adjacent Sewall-Belmont house, a historic structure that serves as headquarters for the National Woman’s Party and a museum for the woman suffrage movement. As construction proceeded, however, rapid inflation in the 1970s multiplied costs and caused several modifications of the original plan, most notably the elimination of a rooftop restaurant and a gymnasium.
A Building for the Computer Era
First occupied in November 1982, the Hart Building is the largest of the three Senate office buildings. The nine-story structure provides offices for 50 senators, as well as for three committees and several subcommittees. Two-story duplex suites allow a senator’s entire office staff to work in connecting rooms. Where solid walls limited the arrangement of office space in the two older buildings, movable partitions permit reconfiguration of offices in the Hart Building to meet changing needs. Designed for modern telecommunications, removable floor panels permit the laying of telephone lines and computer cables, further aiding the rearrangement of offices as computers rapidly alter staff functions. On the building’s roof, microwave satellite dishes expand senators’ communication links with the news media in their home states.
The large Central Hearing Facility on the second floor of the Hart Building was designed for high-interest events attracting crowds that could not be accommodated in the regular hearing rooms. The facility offered more seating, better acoustics, and movable side panels where television cameras could operate without distracting the participants. Behind the dais where committee members sit, the Senate seal is affixed to a white and gray marble wall, which contrasts with the wood-paneled side walls. The room has become familiar to television viewers as the site of numerous Senate investigations and confirmation hearings.
Situated the furthest from the Capitol, the Hart Building was connected underground to an extension of the existing subway to the Dirksen Building. In 1994 a new train loop was installed that provided more cars and speedier service to handle the increased traffic between the buildings. With wider doors and trains at platform-level, the new system is also fully accessible to the handicapped. In addition, the Hart Building provides three floors of underground parking.
In contrast to the other Senate office buildings, where offices ring open courtyards, the Hart Building features a 90-foot high central atrium. The skylit atrium provides an energy-efficient means of lighting corridors and offices. Walkways bridge the atrium on each floor. Located on either end of the atrium are elevator banks and skylit semicircular staircases.
The centerpiece of the atrium is Alexander Calder’s monumental sculpture: Mountains and Clouds. The sculpture, Calder’s last, is his only work that combines a separate stabile and mobile. The mountains–-the stabile–-are made up of four flat, angular steel plates with five mountain peaks among them, and two archlike legs, one branching off the other. The clouds–-the mobile–-consist of four overlapping, curvilinear aluminum plates. On November 10, 1976, the sculptor came to Washington to make the final adjustments to his maquette, a 20-inch sheet-metal model, and died later that evening after returning to New York. Budget cuts delayed construction of the sculpture until 1986, when former New Jersey senator Nicholas F. Brady raised private funds to underwrite the installation. Mountains and Clouds is the largest and most modern sculpture in the Senate.
Honoring Senator Philip A. Hart
The Senate named its third office building in August 1976 for Senator Philip Hart, a Michigan Democrat with a reputation for political bravery and integrity. Critically ill at the time, Senator Hart, who had served since 1959, was the only one of three senators so honored to be living at the time an office building was named for him. He died in December 1976. Above the main entrance to the building, an inscription describes Senator Hart as: “A man of incorruptible integrity and personal courage strengthened by inner grace and outer gentleness….He advanced the cause of human justice, promoted the welfare of the common man and improved the quality of life....His humility and ethics earned him his place as the conscience of the Senate.”