With the number of annual visitors to the United States Capitol having tripled from 1,000,000 in 1970 to nearly 3,000,000 in recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to deal with the congestion caused by such crowds. In the past, visitors were required to line up on the Capitol's east stairs, sometimes stretching all the way to First Street East. This wait could last hours and no protection was offered against inclement weather.
The need to create a dedicated space to process visitors became abundantly clear, and by the turn of the millennium, groundbreaking on a new visitor's center had begun.
With the completion of the Capitol Visitor Center (CVC), visitors now have a secure, handicap-accessible, and educational place to wait before their Capitol tours commence. The CVC—for which the Washington, D.C., office of RTKL Associates won an Excellence in Historic Resources Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA)—is primarily designed for use as a holding zone for visitors who are free to explore the space, which houses an exhibition hall, two gift shops, and a 530-seat food court.
Inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted's 19th century landscape plan, the CVC design provides a major new entry to the Capitol while maintaining—and in some cases restoring—the original park-like plan. The 58,000-square-foot facility features a grand entrance foyer, an orientation theater, as well as a space for use by Congress, including multiple new meeting and conference rooms.