The mission of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center is to provide a welcoming and educational environment for visitors to learn about the unique characteristics of the House and the Senate and the legislative process as well as the history and development of the architecture and art of the U.S. Capitol. The Visitor Center provides an increased focus on visitor comfort, safety and security resulting in a seamless, positive visitor experience at the U.S. Capitol. Like the words carved in marble in the Visitor Center's Exhibition Hall, "Out of Many, One," the visitor experience is an intellectual and emotional encounter comprised of highly personal moments that inform, involve and inspire those who come to see the U.S. Capitol.
Through national and international partnerships, outreach to schools across the country, and a vibrant Web presence, the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center experience begins for visitors long before they set foot in the Capitol. Educational materials stimulate discussions of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship in a representative democracy and celebrate the roles that the House and the Senate play in our daily lives.
The Capitol Visitor Center is the newest addition to the Capitol Complex. It was designed to make the U.S. Capitol more accessible, convenient, secure, and informative for millions of visitors each year.
The Capitol Visitor Center grew out of the realization that while the Capitol evolved with a changing nation and the growing needs of Congress, in recent decades it failed to keep pace with the requirements of an ever-increasing number of visitors.
The proposal for a Capitol Visitor Center began to crystallize in the mid-1970s with the issuance of the Architect of the Capitol's report "Toward a Master Plan for the United States Capitol." In 1991, Congress authorized funding for conceptual planning and design of a visitor center. In 1995, the design report was issued. Changes in security needs, as underscored by the tragic murder of two Capitol police officers in 1998, and other safety and accessibility considerations required revisiting and revalidating the 1995 report. The updated plan was presented to the U.S. Capitol Preservation Commission in October, 1999. Decisions by the Capitol Preservation Commission led to the start of pre-construction activities in the fall of 2001. The events of September 11, 2001 necessitated additional design changes and prompted Congress to provide the necessary funding to move the project into construction.
The design located the Capitol Visitor Center below the East Capitol Grounds, so as to enhance rather than detract from the appearance of the Capitol and its historic Frederick Law Olmsted landscape. The Capitol Visitor Center contains 580,000 square feet on three levels and is approximately three-quarters the size of the Capitol itself (775,000 sq. ft.). The project footprint is actually larger than that of the Capitol by nearly 18,000 sq. ft.
The Capitol Visitor Center contains space for exhibits, visitor comfort, food service, two orientation theaters, an auditorium, gift shops, security, a service tunnel for truck loading and deliveries, mechanical facilities, storage, and office space for the House and Senate.
The Visitor Center preserves and maximizes public access to the Capitol while greatly enhancing the experience for the millions who come each year to walk its historic corridors and experience the democratic process in action.