The Architect of GSA’s Finest Hour


Edward A. Feiner, FAIA (1947-2022)



Nothing is a boon to architecture more than a knowledgeable patron. And one of the foremost “patrons” of architecture in modern societies is government—at its various levels. Our federal government’s role in this is carried out mainly by the General Services Administration (GSA), which oversees the design and construction of most large federal projects: courthouses, federal office buildings, etc. So those holding positions in the GSA administration that establish policy can wield considerable power when design issues are at stake.


Enter Edward Feiner, previously at another government agency, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, where he had been for 11 years, rising to a position in charge in master planning. From 1985 until 2005, Ed Feiner personally reviewed and approved all projects under the aegis of the GSA. It was during this period that he instituted the Design Excellence Program at the GSA. In recognition of Feiner’s principal role, Robert Peck, GSA’s Public Buildings Service commissioner at the time, named him the GSA’s Chief Architect, a position that had been abolished in the 1930s.

One pivotal moment in courthouse design came in 1999, when a modern design by Morphosis won the competition for the Wayne Lyman Morse United States Courthouse in Eugene, Oregon. What some called a deconstructivist design drew attention to the fact that traditional design was no longer a hallmark in federal courthouse design. On the heels of that decision, competitions for numerous federal courthouses took place—El Paso, Texas; Las Cruces, New Mexico; Rockford, Illinois; and Mobile, Alabama. Possible just as important, a new level of transparency was apparent: booklets with detailed plans of the finalists plus names of the jurors were open to public scrutiny.


One of several courthouse competition booklets


During this period, we were in regular touch with Feiner and the GSA, documenting this new trend toward modern design and open transparency at the agency.

After leaving the GSA at 58, Feiner eventually landed at the Chicago office of Perkins and Will, where he was instrumental in starting the Design Leadership Council. We ran across Ed at one of Perkins and Wills annual design review meetings in Toronto. Part of that even was an in-house architecture competition, open to P&W architects from all of their offices. During that review, I was invited together with Larry Richards and Ian Chodikoff to adjudicate the offerings. The topic was “Reimaginig Ontario Place,” the results of which we covered in COMPETITIONS, Vol. 20, #4. I’m sure Ed was happy with the response to the challenge and the results.


Feiner presenting at Perkins and Will


Before closing, it seemed only fitting to include these remarks about Ed from a longtime collaborator and dean at the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture, as competition adviser for several of Ed’s GSA projects:


For the benefit of public architecture and our profession, Ed proved to be the right person, in the right place, at the right time. In the face of not infrequent adversity, Ed’s passion for design excellence – combined with a steadfast commitment and unyielding optimism – served the GSA extremely well. His legacy endures. As one of the appointed Peer Reviewers with the Design Excellence Program, dating back to the early ‘90s, it was a privilege for me to have known and worked with Ed during the many years of his inspired leadership.  –Roger Schluntz, FAIA