Stephen T. Ayers

The CII Executive Committee selected the Honorable Stephen T. Ayers, AIA, LEED AP, as the twenty-fifth recipient of the Carroll H. Dunn Award of Excellence. The award recognizes an individual for outstanding accomplishments in the improvement of the construction industry.

As U.S. Architect of the Capitol (AOC), Stephen Ayers oversees 2600 employees, and is responsible for the maintenance and operation of many of our nation’s most important buildings and grounds. In this role, he is in charge of preserving the historic Capitol Building, caring for and improving more than 450 acres of Capitol grounds, and operating and maintaining 17.4 million square feet of buildings. These buildings include the House and Senate Office Buildings, the Capitol Visitor Center, the Library of Congress Buildings, the U.S. Supreme Court Building, the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building, among others. He is also responsible for the care of all works of art and architectural elements throughout the Capitol complex. In addition, he serves as Acting Director of the U.S. Botanic Garden and the National Garden. Since his appointment as AOC head last year—after 13 years of service to the agency—he has worked to make it a learning organization focused on design and construction excellence. His emphasis on the sustainability, historic preservation, and beauty of our nation’s treasures is in keeping with his belief in the importance of maintaining and renewing the U.S. infrastructure.

Stephen was born in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1962, and grew up with his sister and brother in Reisterstown, Maryland, the son of Ben Ayers, a corporate executive, and Jane Ayers, an administrative assistant. His father began his 40-year career with the Reliable Stores Corporation as a salesman and worked his way up the ranks, finally retiring as an owner of the company. He sees his father’s strong work ethic, lasting company loyalty, and sense of practicality as the model on which he has built his own successful career. While his father showed him what it meant to work hard, his mother’s education in the arts, her interest in sewing and decorating, and her artistry as a painter were all major influences on his choice of career. Stephen credits her for giving him an appreciation of the importance of color, style, and design—all essential elements of good architecture.

It was in a high school drafting class that he first understood that his design skills were valuable in the marketplace. Even before graduating, he got his first design-related job drafting metal machine parts for the clutch assemblies of tanks. After high school, he attended the University of Maryland, earning his B.S. in Architecture in 1985. During his college years, he worked as an unpaid intern at an architectural firm. He joined the Air Force after graduation, and went into officer training school at Lackland A.F.B. in San Antonio, Texas. His first tour of duty was at Edwards A.F.B. in Edwards, California, where he initially served as Staff Architect with the 6510th Civil Engineer Squadron. He was promoted to Design Team Chief and progressed to the rank of captain before leaving the service.

While stationed at Edwards, Stephen entered the graduate business management program at the University of Southern California. At the same time, his wife Jennifer, whom he had met at the University of Maryland and married before moving to Texas, enrolled in the MBA program at Golden Gate University. During his tour at Edwards, under the command of Lt. General John Shoeppner and Colonel Fred Rochez, Stephen learned the valuable leadership skills he would carry into his civilian career. Both officers set strong examples of decisive, caring, and communicative leadership, imbuing the mission with esprit de corps and creating opportunities for professional growth and satisfaction.

During graduate school, in 1987, the first of the Ayers’ two children was born, their daughter, Stephanie. Their son, Nicholas, was born in 1988, the year Stephen graduated from the USC with his M.S. in systems management. After leaving the military, having earned the Meritorious Service Medal, he joined Voice of America (VOA) as the organization’s European Construction Manager. Because he had remained stateside throughout his years in the military, this new career promised not only the continuing fulfillment of serving his country, but it also afforded him the opportunity that he as an architect had long hoped for—to see many kinds of buildings, places, and communities around the world.

As the VOA construction manager for the European theater, Stephen did indeed see much of the world. Responsible for building and maintaining the power plants, infrastructure, employee housing, and office and industrial buildings needed to operate VOA’s many radio and television relay stations in Europe, Stephen and his family lived on the island of Rhodes, Greece, and traveled extensively throughout the region. In charge of a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars at VOA, Stephen worked for the agency for six years.

Returning the United States in 1997, he joined the Architect of the Capitol as an Assistant Superintendent for the Senate Office Buildings. In 1999, he was promoted to Deputy Superintendent. He was then promoted to Superintendent of the Library Buildings and Grounds in 2002. In October 2005, Mr. Ayers was appointed as the Acting Deputy Architect/Chief Operating Officer. In March 2006, Mr. Ayers was selected as the Deputy Architect/Chief Operating Officer. In February 2007, Mr. Ayers began serving as Acting Architect until his appointment as Architect of the Capitol in May 2010.

Since his unanimous confirmation by the United States Senate, Stephen has led a variety of initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, improve energy efficiency, and implement sustainable design practices throughout the Capitol complex. As steward of an annual budget of more than $600 million, one of his main objectives is to ensure the agency provides the best value for Congress and for the American taxpayers in caring for the national treasures entrusted to his care. To this end, he is responsibly addressing a backlog of deferred maintenance and capital renewal projects, prioritizing them to address the most urgent needs first, and securing the necessary investment from Congress. He also has made the professionalization of the agency one of his top priorities, having transformed the AOC into an employer of choice. He cites CII research as integral to this organizational change.

Throughout his career, Stephen has understood the power of design—good design, he argues, creates healthy communities, beautiful and functional buildings, and restorative spaces between buildings. His involvement in professional organizations and community service, as well as other awards he has won all reflect his practical-minded focus on design and community.

Stephen is an active member of the following organizations: American Institute of Architects; the National Historic Trust for Historic Preservation; the Construction Users Roundtable; the Construction Managers Association of America; the Building Owners and Management Association; the International Facility Management Association; the National Institute of Building Sciences; the International Association of Museum Facility Administrators; and the ACE Mentor Program. Among his most recent awards are the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Maryland School of Architecture (April 2011), a 2011 Webby Award for the AOC website’s virtual tour of the Capitol, and a 2010 Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Preservation and Care of Collections from the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.

Stephen and his wife, Jennifer—who is Director of the Office of Executive Budgeting at the U.S. Department of Commerce—live in Edgewater, Maryland, and devote time to their church’s ministries, and particularly enjoy their work in the church’s marriage preparation classes for young couples.

When asked about the direction he would like to see the industry take, Stephen notes that early and continued collaboration with contractors is essential in helping to reduce change orders that can impact a project’s cost and schedule is an important issue for both contractors and clients. He also believes that reinvestment in our aging infrastructure is a paramount concern, and that the industry should be at the forefront of developing a roadmap to begin to rebuild the nation’s great infrastructure. In addition, he is a strong advocate of using sustainable design practices whether one is building a new facility or maintaining one that is 100 years old. As Architect of the Capitol, one of his biggest challenges is preserving the historic elements of the buildings, while at the same time making them as energy efficient as possible.

For his lifetime of dedicated service to the country, his contributions to the industry, and his vision for the future, CII is delighted to honor Stephen T. Ayers with the Carroll H. Dunn Award of Excellence, CII’s highest honor.