Transcripts

Election Over, Inaugural Planning Ramps Up

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:08
Welcome to "Metro Connection," I'm Sabri Ben-Achour, in this week for Rebecca Sheir. And we can finally declare, after all the months of barnstorming and debating and robocalling and political mailings and door knocking, it's over. A spokesperson for the city's board of election says it looks like D.C. is having a record turnout this year. And says...

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

00:00:31
Voters stream out at the Silver Spring Civic Center waiving little I Voted stickers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1

00:00:36
Tomorrow, no more negative campaign ads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2

00:00:39
The longest time I've ever had to wait for any election, by far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #3

00:00:43
No state had ever approved same-sex marriage via voter referendum but within minutes, both Maine and Maryland did so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #4

00:00:48
And once Kaine took the stage, it soon became clear that the only thing that would be keeping supporters up late was celebration.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:55
Fireworks over the Potomac River, last night, as supporters celebrated the passage of the Maryland Gaming Measure.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

00:01:02
A long campaign is now over.

GOV. MITT ROMNEY

00:01:05
At a time like this, we can't risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the peoples work.

OBAMA

00:01:13
I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do...

CARDOZA

00:01:18
And while they're proud to have cast their ballots, many say they're really looking forward to the end of this grueling campaign season.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN

00:01:26
Thank you and God bless, America. You guys are the best.

OBAMA

00:01:28
Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:39
That's right, it's over unless you happen to live or work here in the nation's capitol and have reason to head down to this place -- so I'm out on the West Front of the Capitol Building. It's full on, about three months almost, ahead of inauguration day but there is a whole bunch of construction going on out here. So we are going to go inside the Capitol to talk to the man who knows what this is all about.

MR. STEPHEN AYERS

00:02:05
I'm Stephen Ayers, the Architect of the Capitol.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:07
We're in this building circular room filled with columns. Can you tell me where we are right now?

AYERS

00:02:12
Well, this is the crypt of the United States Capitol, right in the center of the Capitol Building.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:17
Why is it called the crypt?

AYERS

00:02:19
First, it's below the rotunda and it's called a crypt because this is where George Washington and Martha Washington were to be buried. Of course, they were never buried here.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:29
Come inauguration day, tell me what's going to happen in this space.

AYERS

00:02:33
Well, this is the crypt so this is sort of a transitional space on inauguration day. And where we're standing is actually the route that the President will take. So as the President's walking through this Capitol Building on Inauguration Day, there is virtually no time where he's not on camera. So as he's descending these steps right here, there's a camera mounted right up on that wall on the corner that's capturing him coming down these steps.

AYERS

00:03:02
Right up until he gets to this door to the West Front of the Capitol, the President will usually take a moment there to take a breather and then those doors open and that's his time to give his address to the nation and it's the time where he, you know, it's this peaceful transition of power that happens in this great country. It's so unique.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:26
How many of these have you seen?

AYERS

00:03:27
I've been in the Architect's office for 16 years, so I've seen my share of inaugurations.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:33
Now, as we look out this window here, I mean, this whole West End of the Capitol area is roped off, it's closed and I, basically, it looks like construction lot out there. Can you tell me what some -- what exactly are you building?

AYERS

00:03:46
Sure, so the -- you know, the West Front of the Capitol has a plaza and a set of stairs and a beautiful fountain and a ring of trees around that fountain. Well, all of that is covered up by these grandstands that seat some 1,600 people and another several hundred people above that. So all of those people sit in a stadium style platform that we build, stick build, out of wood every four years. To the left and right of this platform will be tall media stands and then right in front of these platforms where there's a little bump out where the President stands, right in front of that, is a television tower.

AYERS

00:04:28
So we have the base of the platform finished now. You know, we turned the fountain off, we filled the fountain with sand, we build the structure out over the platform and you can see where the President stands. It's actually 25 or 30 feet in the air, out over this fountain. So that platform is done. And now we're working on the bleachers that surround this flat platform.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:54
Planning for the inauguration is clearly well underway. How early do you start?

AYERS

00:04:59
This inauguration happens every four years or inaugurations happen every four years. So once they happen, just a month after that, we do a hot wash and we gather everybody back together and we pick a part that inauguration. What went great? What went wrong? What can we do a better job at? How can we tweak the chairs or the stage or the platform or the music or the sound system or the jumbo-trons? You name it, we do that right after that inauguration and we capture all of that on paper. And then two years later, a year away from the next inauguration, we begin to pull that back out.

AYERS

00:05:37
So a year ago on this construction for the platforms here on the West Front, we started that process of reviewing the design work, getting construction contracts procured and awarded. And as you can see today, right after Labor Day, we close down the West Front and start construction. And we'll be under construction up until about the middle of January.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:06:04
How is the inauguration construction or plans changed over time?

AYERS

00:06:09
Well, the inaugurations of President's were typically held on the East Front of the Capitol for many, many years up through 1981, I believe it was, with President Reagan. He moved to the West Front of the Capitol. And I think primarily, that move was for making it more accessible to the people. We can fit more people on the West Front. And, of course, they can flow all the way out through the National Mall. And since then, you know, the stadium stands that we build every four years have been tweaked a little bit but not -- quite frankly, not that much.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:06:44
And then I'm just curious, what does the Architect of the Capitol do when he's not setting up the next inauguration?

AYERS

00:06:52
Well, interesting, we have at the same time, it's a Presidential election year, this is a Congressional election year as well. There are a number of Congressmen and Senators that won't be returning that have retired or lost elections. So we move all of their offices around. So we're busy with planning for that at the moment. But other than that, our job is to serve, preserve and inspire, so we serve the American people, we serve the Congress.

AYERS

00:07:25
We maintain and build and preserve all of the facilities that are entrusted to our care. And with 2.5 million people visiting this Capitol Building a year and another million people visiting our Botanic Garden, providing inspirational visits and education visits is something that's important to us as well.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:07:49
That was Stephen Ayers, the Architect of the U.S. Capitol speaking with me about prep for January's inauguration. And we want to know, do you have a favorite memory of an inauguration gone by? Have you ever crammed yourself onto the freezing mall to witness one yourself? You can reach us at metro@wamu.org or find us on Twitter. Our hand is @WAMUmetro.
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