Temple of Liberty: Building the (United States) Capitol for a New Nation

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9780195098587: Temple of Liberty: Building the (United States) Capitol for a New Nation
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Throughout its history, the consciousness of Washington D.C.'s national and international importance has guided the layout of its public spaces and the design of its public buildings. For George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Figures most responsible for overseeing the initial design and direction of the Capitol, America's principle legislative building should be a unique architectural expression of the country's new political system. However, creating a structure of such significance presented numerous pragmatic and political difficulties, as well as changing symbolic intensions, as Revolutionary-era iconography gave way to that expressive of national expansion.
In Temple of Liberty, Pamela Scott presents an in-depth exploration of the first United States Capitol begun in 1793 but not completed until 1916 with the placement of sculpture in the House wing's pediment. This fascinating work is an accompaniment to the "Temple of Liberty" exhibition scheduled to be held at the Madison Gallery of the Library of Congress in the Spring of 1995--an exhibition of original prints, drawings, and documents that depict a young nation building its first and most significant architectural symbol. Together, the book and exhibition will offer a new understanding of the role of this important building in the history of American architecture and evolution of our government.
Explaining the origins and meaning of several symbols proposed during the late eighteenth century, such as the snake and eagle, and allegorical figures of Hercules, Minerva, and Mercury, Scott shows how they were used to create a composite American iconography derived from European and American elements to portray such concepts as national unity, liberty, and plenty. She focuses on the Capitol's protracted design competition process which featured both open and invitational competitions that began in early 1792 and continued through mid-1793. In turn, she reviews the entries of the various contestants (as well as their interaction with Washington and Jefferson, the competition judges), including the amateur architect and physician William Thornton, whose submission was eventually chosen as the winning plan for the Capitol, and Stephen Sulpice Hallet, a professional architect who took second place and was hired to build Thornton's design. Scott discusses the actual construction of the Capitol, from the development of its facade and grounds, based on a modified version of Thornton's original plan, through the building's completion nearly four decades later. She goes on to detail the growth of the magnificent interior spaces, from the Senate and House wings, to the center building that contained the crypt, rotunda, and Library of Congress. We see how two of America's foremost architects, Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Charles Bulfinch, emerged as the primary form givers, despite the fact that their definitions of how to express American national identity through architecture, differed considerably. Throughout, she focuses on the effort to create uniquely American architectural elements, from a fiesty American bald eagle instead of the classical Roman eagle, to columns featuring tobacco and corn motifs. Finally, Scott illustrates how the Capitol was extended in the 1850s and 1860s into the structure that exists today which dwarfs the original building--two new wings and a much higher dome--and the efforts made to continue the symbolic themes of the first Capitol in the architectural, painted, and sculpted programs of the project.
From the first Capitol's chaste Neoclassicism to its vibrant Victorian additions, the intention was that it express in its architecture and decoration our national political, social, and cultural ideals. Entertaining and informative, Temple of Liberty explores these concerns and the manner in which they were achieved, showing how quickly and widely the Capitol became a premier symbol in America's popular consciousness.

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About the Author:


Pamela Scott teaches the History of Washington Architecture for Cornell University in Washington, D.C. She is the co-author of Buildings of the District of Columbia.

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9780195098570: Temple of Liberty: Building the Capitol for a New Nation

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ISBN 10:  0195098579 ISBN 13:  9780195098570
Publisher: Oxford University Press, 1995
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