Millions of government employees, Washington, D.C. tourists, and people across the country appreciate Christine Merdon’s work every year.
As chief operating officer at Architect of the Capitol, she’s responsible for making sure Capitol Hill is ship shape. This is no small task considering that covers 17.4 million square feet of buildings and more than 553 acres of land.
She began her career with the Navy, and since then has worked on projects that read like a bucket list: Nationals Park, O’Hare Airport, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, Camp David, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum for African American History, the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial – and those are just a few.
We asked this monumental civil engineer to tell us what it’s like to live out the AOC mission to “serve, preserve and inspire,” and which building is her favorite.
Q. We read that working for Architect of the Capitol is a lifelong dream come true for you. What lit that spark of passion to “serve, preserve and inspire” our national monument?
My mother is my biggest role model. She is an immigrant who moved to the United States, supported three children working as a hairdresser while also earning a college degree at night. Her journey, in my view, is the American dream. Inspiring others through my service by preserving our national monuments is my way of giving back for all that this nation has given my family.
Q. Which monument or building is your favorite, and why?
Probably the U.S. Capitol Building. We recently completed a restoration of the building and it looks amazing. More importantly, it is a facility seen on newscasts around the globe as the symbol of democracy. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Q. In addition to the remarkable work you do today on the U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court, House and Senate Office Buildings, Library of Congress, and Botanic Garden (among others), the list of projects you helped lead prior to joining the Architect of the Capitol is equally jaw-dropping. What one word or phrase comes to mind for you when you reflect on your work in the private sector?
Perseverance and pride
Q. Engineers are known for solving problems no one else can solve. It’s conceivable that preservation of our nation’s aging buildings includes solving one problem after another. What’s one you and your team had to overcome to keep our iconic capitol buildings safe and beautiful?
The scaffolding system for the Capitol Dome restoration was really challenging and unique. We erected 25 levels of scaffolding, weighing 1.2 million pounds, around the entire Dome. The scaffolding was supported at three points on the Dome structure itself (peristyle, boiler plate and tholos walkways) and not on the roof of the U.S. Capitol. Real time monitoring of scaffold loading was performed to ensure that load bearing capacity at any one point was not exceeded. Additionally, the installation of the scaffolding started 100 feet from the ground and rose from there. It was a technical – and very public – challenge.
Q. Your education and training include a bachelor’s and master’s of science in civil engineering. With the Department of Education predicting that 65 percent of all jobs in the United States will require some post-secondary education by 2020, what do you do to keep your engineering and project management skills sharp?
I consider myself a seeker. I am always looking for new opportunities and challenges to test myself. I attend continuing education courses and participate in conferences and other events. I also value learning something not traditionally associated with engineering. I have taken art classes at the Corcoran School of Art as well as the Torpedo Factory Art Center.
Q. We’re going to assume you can’t share many details, but what can you tell us about your time in the White House Military Office and managing classified design and construction projects at the White House and Camp David?
You are correct! I cannot share a lot of details, but it was quite exciting.
Q. What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
I get to do something different every single day. There is never a boring week and there is always a new challenge to tackle. The team at the Architect of the Capitol are the some of the best tradesmen, craftsmen, architects, engineers and service providers in the world. It is a dream to work with them in our nation’s capital.