Edward A. Feiner, Former U.S. Chief Architect and Interior Design Hall of Fame Member, Dies

Eccentric. Innovative. Prolific in his work. Architect and Interior Design Hall of Famer Edward A. Feiner died earlier this week after battling brain cancer. He is remembered for his outsized achievements—and personality.

During his tenure as chief architect of the U.S. General Services Administration, Feiner ushered in a new era of design for federal landmarks by creating the Design Excellence Program. The program, which he developed with colleague Marilyn Farley, ensured that architects for government projects were carefully vetted by experts in the field, creating a new legacy of iconic design. From courthouses to high-tech labs, Feiner worked with the likes of David Childs, Henry Cobb, James Freed and countless others to bring more than 140 federal buildings to life. Known for championing diversity, he also commissioned the first federal courthouse by a Black architect, Ralph Jackson, and the first federal building by a woman, Carol Ross Barney.

Edward A. Feiner.
Edward A. Feiner.

But his work—and influence—extends beyond the public eye. “Ed’s extraordinary leadership for GSA’s Design Excellence revitalized the architecture landscape for government buildings in this country with every major architect wanting in. But he cared about interiors too,” says Interior Design editor in chief Cindy Allen. As founding director of the Design Leadership Council at Perkins&Will, Feiner nurtured the careers of the firm’s established and emerging architects alike, creating peer reviews as well as a design awards program, the Biennale, which Allen juried several times.

“We are a much better firm as the result of his guidance,” shares Ken Wilson, design principal at Perkins&Will. “Ed was a brilliant critic and had an amazing ability to get to the heart of any design issue that a design team might be struggling with.”  

“He was a mentor, a colleague, and most of all, a friend,” adds Joan Blumenfeld, also a principal at the firm. “He changed the course of federal architecture from predictable mediocrity or worse to almost uniformly high quality and in doing so enriched the public sphere and all of our lives.”

Archival image of Edward A. Feiner at work.
Feiner with Perkins&Will colleagues.

Friends and colleagues recall Feiner as a “warm and quirky” man who consistently sought out ways to improve the quality of built environments, encouraging experimentation and innovation. His unique style (cowboy boots were a signature item) and love for simple pleasures, like a mouthwatering hamburger, spoke to his approachable, sometimes “kooky in the most delightful way,” demeanor. “A truly sweet and good-hearted man.  I was fortunate to work in the same studio as Ed and thoroughly enjoyed every moment I spent with him,” continues Wilson. “He had charisma for days and could rock a pair of cowboy boots like no one I know!” adds Allen.

Born in the Bronx, Feiner attended Brooklyn Technical High School, where he studied architecture before going on to Cooper Union. But his love for the profession began much earlier—at age three, to be exact, when he first started building skyscrapers out of wooden blocks. Furthering his studies in graduate school at Catholic University, he and his wife, Fran, settled in Washington, D.C. where he launched his illustrious, decades-long career. Feiner leaves behind a son and daughter.

“His contribution was big—just like his personality—and I, for one, will miss him terribly,” shares Allen. “But his spirit lives on in all those buildings, and with the many people he touched along the way.”