D.C.’s guide to modern architecture

By the

January 18, 2001

by Kate Greenberg

Welcome back to the Nation’s capital. After a month of vacation, I began to realize that the Hollywood sign and California modern homes of my native Los Angeles is a complete contrast to D.C.’s memorials and federal style homes. But I am going to take this time to pick out some highlights of modern architecture that I suggest all of you see one of the four years you are here.

The architecture in Washington D.C. dates back to 1790s when George Washington decided that the area between the the North and South was a perfect spot for the new capital of the new country. Washington hired Pierre L’Efant to plan the city. Modeling it after Paris by using a simple grid plan with diagonals that would cut across and form circles. D.C. is full of neo-classical architecture taken from European influences, but rest assured there are some great examples of modern architecture.

I suggest a tour of D.C.’s modern architecture for the scholars of this university, in order to broaden your horizon of knowledge. You can start locally, in our very own Georgetown. The house of Hugh Newell Jacobsen is a private home on 28th Street. It is owned and designed by Jacobsen, a modern architect, who has chosen to reside there. It is quite a contrast to the usual Georgetown homes, typically in the Federal style. If you are willing to take the tour to Dupont area, then I suggest taking a stroll on Mass. Avenue and checking out various Embassies on the row. The modern stand-outs include the Brazilian Embassy, made of black glass; it’is very striking. Just behind the Brazilian Embassy on Whitehaven is the Royal Danish Embassy. If you continue up the hill on Mass. Avenue you will see the Finish Embassy. It’s a great example of pure Scandinavian modernism.

If you dare to venture farther, I suggest stopping off at the Mall. Not only does the Mall include great works of art in large museums, for free no less, but also has great architecture. The two best examples that D.C. has to offer in the genre of modern architecture are the East Wing of the National Gallery and the Hirshorn Museum of Modern Art. Both buildings were built in the 1970’s, and both house great collections. The National Gallery’s East Wing was designed by I.M. Pei, the famous architect also known for works such as the glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris and the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. The Hirshorn Museum, on the other side of the Mall was designed by Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. The Hirshorn has a circular plan which creates an interesting home for a great modern art collection.

Soon D.C. will have the great pleasure of having a new addition to the current modern architecture. The Corcoran Museum will make its final addition with Frank O. Gehry’s Annex. Gehry, a California based architect, is known for such great works as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the Music Project in Seattle. Luckily for the students and the city, he has chosen D.C. as his next site. We should wait in angst and expect a great building to take advantage of when it arrives.

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