Sunday, 26 September 2010

Eastern Seaboard - the final frontier

Friday 3 September – Off to Washington for a whistle stop tour following an excellent introductory from Michael McGill – the Government Services Administration’s representative on the National Planning Commission. This set the scene for a drive by tour which took in a number of the older DC buildings and a selection of newer ones with welcome stops at old 1887 Pension Building (now the National Building Museum) by Montgomery Meigs with its spectacular atrium (shown below left) complete with 75 foot high Corinthian columns each made out of 75,000 bricks which have been plastered and marbled. An extraordinary space.

Then to 1973 US Tax Court by Victor Lundy - we fortunate to gain access to the interior of this fine building before security cut in after we had visited one of the Courts.

 A brief pit stop at the Museum of the Native American which, to my mind sits uncomfortably among more restrained neighbours. A native Californian travelling with the group felt that it captured perfectly the character of the Arizona desert scenery. The exhibits are fascinating and the ground floor eatery is among the best in Washington. 

A final stop of the day was made at the FDR Memorial (detail below)which is a favourite of mine among many fine monuments in the Capital. It was good to have a chance to walk along the waterside and to see the Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson (right above) memorials as the sun was beginning to set. 

Saturday 4 September – the real reason for extending the tour to Washington was that it was the setting off point for the visit to the University of Virginia – Thomas Jefferson’s creation which was a rewarding experience. We were shown round the Rotunda and The Lawn by an enthusiastic fourth year student who was justly proud of the surroundings. A detail of one of the Pavilions facing onto the Green is shown below left and the classic view of the Rotunda (with its Corinthian columns strangely wrapped in black plastic bin liners) below left.


 Then on to Jefferson’s Monticello (below). Magnificently sited, a grand vision and convincing from the outside. The interior, Jefferson’s own room apart, was a slight disappointment. What had seemed a stately house outside was, in many areas, ill proportioned and clumsy. It seemed like what in fact had been – a perpetual work in progress. Like Jefferson himself, the building seemed flawed by contradictions but both exert their magnetism. 

Sunday 5 September – the last excursion before catching the plane back to Blighty. A tour of Hollin Hills – a modernist suburban development of the 1950's - the first community of contemporary homes built in the Washington, DC area - to the designs of architect Charles Goodman, and landscape plans by Lou Bernard Voight and Eric Paepcke. Many homes had garden plans prepared by Dan Kiley. We were shown round by Michael McGill who generously showed us his own house and arranged access to another. 


FLW had the last word – a visit, on the way to Dulles Airport to the 1939 Pope-Leighey House which, according to the hand out ‘today tells the story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s innovative designs for a modestly-sized and affordable single-family house and how two families adapted the dwelling to fit their lifestyle’ Says it all, really.

It was fitting that the last building visited in transit to the departure lounge was Saarinen’s wonderful terminal building at Dulles Airport (1958-62). Still working, still elegant and a reminder, should we have needed it of the wonderful collection of buildings we had seen in the preceding two weeks.

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