Architecture in the District / by Maxwell Young

The Enlightenment period is largely charged with the origin of the ideals and principles with which our nation was founded.  Moreover, it is also the period that saw a revitalization of architectural motifs that were reminiscent of Greek and Roman antiquity, ushering in an age of neoclassical motifs.

Fourteen years after our founding, the District of Columbia was established as the new permanent capital for a young, budding nation.  Pierre Charles L'Enfant, a French engineer, along with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington himself are majorly responsible for the plan of the city.  On uncharted territory, these men were tasked with developing an urban plan and construction of buildings that embodied the inalienable rights our founders declared self evident.  As residents and tourists of the capital will note, the public walk (today's National Mall) and monumental building such as the US Capitol and US Treasury buildings are not only symbols of such ideals, but are also embedded in the neoclassical forms that proliferated major cities throughout the Enlightenment period.

We've all seen these buildings, though.  I mean, once you've seen the White House you sort of get the gist of the integration of columns, balustrades, and temple fronts in the federal motif. What about the buildings we overlook on a daily basis? The houses, converted office buildings, or churches tourists and residents walk past every day are also integral to the narrative of the District's development.  Structures like the Octagon House, which are in some cases over 200 years old, are somewhat muted by the commercialized cityscape, but their detail and use of elements native to the land are quite remarkable.  Check out the images below, and if you're ever in the district, be sure to check out institutions like, the American Institute of Architects, or neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle that offers an interesting perspective of what the nation's capital looked like many many years ago.