Aram Mardirosian, architect, dies at 81

Posted April 14, 2013, at 8:07 p.m.

Aram Mardirosian, a former chief architectural adviser to the National Park Service whose work on the redevelopment of Union Station led to a contentious antitrust lawsuit that prompted changes in the code of ethics of the American Institute of Architects, died April 1 at his daughter’s home in McLean, Va.. He was 81.

He had congestive heart failure, his daughter Katharine Mardirosian said.

In 1975, Mardirosian took over a long-troubled project to design a national visitors’ center at Union Station near the Capitol. The project was managed by the Park Service, which handed the job to Mardirosian after a series of cost overruns and delays.

Mardirosian had publicly criticized the work at Union Station and urged an investigation into how the project was being run. But after he was awarded the contract by the Park Service, Mardirosian found himself in an ethical conflict with the AIA, the country’s leading organization for architects.

The AIA alleged that he had angled to take over a job already assigned to another architect, which it deemed a “flagrant” violation of its code of ethics. In 1977, the AIA censured Mardirosian for what it termed unprofessional conduct and suspended his membership in the organization for one year.

Mardirosian disputed the claims and filed a lawsuit against the AIA, charging that its ethical rules were a violation of antitrust laws and an undue restraint of trade. He received legal support from Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen consumer advocacy group.

Meanwhile, three federal agencies, including the FBI, launched investigations into contracts awarded to Mardirosian by the Park Service for work at Union Station and for an earlier project in St. Louis. After several months, he was cleared of any charges of conflict of interest or other wrongdoing.

Mardirosian’s lawsuit against the AIA reached U.S. District Judge John Sirica, who presided over several Watergate cases. He ruled in Mardirosian’s favor, finding that the architecture group’s ethical bylaws violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and wrongly restricted professional competition.

“The conclusion that Mardirosian was suspended from membership in the AIA for in some manner competing with another architect,” Sirica wrote in his decision, “is inescapable.”

The AIA paid Mardirosian $700,000 in an out-of-court settlement in 1981 and expunged any reference to the suspension.

“After five years,” Mardirosian said in 1981, “I have my reputation back.”

The protracted case was hotly debated in professional circles.

“The emotional ethics issue has dominated recent institute meetings,” a professional journal, Engineering News-Record, reported in 1981, “and a sizable percentage of the membership is against making any accommodation with the foes of rigid ethical rules.”

Nonetheless, the AIA revised its code of ethics in 1986, eliminating provisions that limited competition.

Aram Haig Mardirosian was born Aug. 20, 1931, in the Bronx and was a 1953 mathematics graduate of Harvard University. He was a Navy fighter pilot in the 1950s and received a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard in 1960. He worked for an architectural firm in Connecticut before coming to Washington in 1967.

After working with the Park Service and other federal agencies, Mardirosian formed his own firm, the Potomac Group, in 1970. One of his first major projects was the Museum of Westward Expansion, which he designed in the early 1970s for the Park Service near the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

He developed a specialty in museums and historical projects and worked on science museums in Tennessee and Mississippi and the Virginia Living Museum, a natural history museum in Newport News.

For many years, Mardirosian’s wife, Johanna Franchetti Mardirosian, conducted research and wrote exhibit captions for her husband’s museum projects. She died in 2007 after 46 years of marriage.

Survivors include three children, Amanda McCarthy of Pacific Palisades, Calif., John Mardirosian of Greystones, Ireland, and Katharine Mardirosian of McLean; and seven grandchildren.

Mardirosian worked as an architecture and design consultant until shortly before his death and had recently completed work on a museum, library and hotel project in Iowa.

 

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