Washington D.C.—Nation’s Capital Gordon Slethaug
Monumentality and the Urban Skyline • Spiro Kostof, The City Shaped • Traditionally, civic and religious buildings dominated skylines, creating a central cultural core • The Germans early in the 20th Century hoped for a stadtkrone, a dominant building in the cityscape that would stand for communal life and the aspirations of society • In recent times, financial institutions, the media, department stores, and even apartment buildings compete to dominate the skyline.
Washington D.C • Washington D.C. has a central core, dominated by the Capitol and the Washington Monument and standing for the American national identity. • We could call this a stadtkrone, a city crown • It is organized principally around the so-called Washington Mall
Washington D.C. • Had been a swamp, inhabited by Algonquian Indians, and then home to various plantations • Washington D.C. was chosen in 1790 to be the capital at a point mid-way between the North and the South • Supposed to be a national city, independent of regional and state politics, hence “District”
Washington D.C. • Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant chosen to design the city (Paris was designed 60 years later along the lines of Washington D.C.) • Original plan included the White House (begun 1792) and the Capitol (begun 1793)
The Capitol—1793-1807 • William Thornton won the competition for the Capitol Building’s design in 1793, and included one pavilion for the House of Representatives and one for the Senate with a large Rotunda between. The pavilions were finished in 1807 • The space was enlarged and the present rotunda built in 1863, symbolically in the middle of the Civil War
Washington D.C. • Capitol and White House built in the classical Greco-Roman style • A fashionable style in the 18th century • Ideological architecture: Athens, Greece considered the birthplace of democracy, and the Emperor Augustus of Rome the one who brought order out of the chaos after Julius Caesar’s assassination and inaugurated an age of reason and good rule. Hence, the 18th century is called the age of reason, the poetry “Augustan,” and the architecture neo-classical • Neo-classical architecture designed to resemble classical architecture, depending on principles of balance, presence of columns, use of understated elegance, and other classical manifestations
The White House • Construction begun in 1792 • Designed by James Hoban, an Irish American self-taught architect • Supposed to be substantial enough to reflect the president’s office, but not imperial enough to be a palace.
The Washington Mall • 1793—envisioned by Pierre Charles L’Enfant as a meeting place for the masses and was to be lined with significant cultural buildings • Mid-19th Century—used to graze cattle for US troops in Civil War, then as location for soldiers themselves • Late 19th Century—the site of railroad tracks leading to the Smithsonian Institution • 1901—designed and supervised by Commission of Fine Arts headed by architects Burnham, McKim, Olmsted, and St. Gaudens
The Washington Mall • Part of the City Beautiful Movement and the fashionable Beaux Arts architecture and the implications of Social Darwinism • Commission on Fine Arts wanted to refer to the previous neo-classical architecture, honor the founding fathers, and add something complementary • Decided to add the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial to the Washington Monument in a strategic pattern • First stage complete in 1922 with the construction of the Lincoln Memorial
Washington Mall • The Beaux Arts style (neo-classical forms with ornate Renaissance embellishments) also complemented the existing neo-classical style of the White House and Capitol
Washington Mall • Laid out on a North-South/East-West axis • North-South axis: the White House marks the north, the Jefferson Memorial (1943) marks the south, and the Washington Monument the center • East-West axis: the Capitol marks the east, the Lincoln Memorial the west, and the Washington Monument the center
Washington Monument— 1884
Washington Monument • When completed in 1884, the tallest structure in the world—555 feet, twice as high as the Capitol • Patterned after Egyptian obelisks and modified by neo-classical simplicity to indicate dignity • The obelisk was a favorite neo-classical design, perhaps representing ancient roots to the civil society
Lincoln Memorial—1922 • Washington consider the principle founding father and author of America and Lincoln the defender of freedoms and unifier of North and South • Daniel Chester French’s statue of Lincoln dominates the inside together with Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address • Frequent place for public demonstrations for civil rights, including Martin Luther King and African Americans as well as women’s and gay rights groups
Jefferson Memorial—1943 • Memorializes the third president of the United States, the author of the “Declaration of Independence,” and the force behind the Louisiana Purchase (1803) • Surrounded by Japanese cherry trees, considered the post-card image of Washington • Design based on Jefferson’s own architectural plans for his own house (Monticello) and the University of Virginia
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center—1998 • First federal structure designed for government and private use • What does this say about American ideology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries?
What Does the Capital City Say About American Civil Society? • A city of reason and balance? • Neo-classical roots • A city to teach Americans the values of good government? • Beaux Arts increments • Modern additions: only building on traditions? • An imperial city?