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Unbuilt Washington

November 19, 2011–May 28, 2012

Lincoln Memorial. Proposal for the Lincoln Memorial by John Russell Pope, 1912. National Archives.Main elevation of Capitol competition entry by James Diamond, 1792. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, 1976.88.51.Preliminary proposal for the National Cultural Center (later Kennedy Center), Edward Durell Stone, 1959.White House Extension. Proposed Extensions to the White House (Executive Mansion) by Robert Owen, 1891-1901. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-7736.National Mall. Projected improvements to the Washington Monument and National Mall by B.F. Smith, 1852. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-31534.Memorial Bridge. Proposed Memorial Bridge in Honor of General U.S. Grant by Smithmeyer & Pelz, 1887. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-31532.Library of Congress. Competition entry for the Library of Congress by Alexander R. Esty, c. 1880. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-31519.

Imagine the Lincoln Memorial as a stepped pyramid. Or the Capitol as a modest, red-brick structure with a small cupola instead of its impressive dome. Or a replacement for the White House designed in an opulent style reminiscent of the Palace at Versailles and perched atop one of the highest points in Washington, D.C.

These were just a few of the more than 100 unexecuted architectural proposals presented in Unbuilt Washington, which ran from November 19, 2011 through May 28, 2012. The exhibition included rarely-seen, original drawings by architects such as Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Montgomery Meigs, and even Thomas Jefferson, depicting designs for the capital city from 1791 to the present. These proposals—some stunningly beautiful, some eccentric, and some astonishingly ill-considered—revealed that the Washington we take for granted today could have turned out very differently. Unbuilt Washington challenged common assumptions about the physical character of Washington and, in so doing, illuminated the complex processes underlying the creation of buildings and cities, revealed the influence of unbuilt projects on subsequent designs that were realized, and demonstrated that past proposals sometimes offer important lessons for the design of future projects.

To complement the Unbuilt Washington exhibition, the Museum also organized two off-site exhibitions around the theme of unbuilt work. Unbuilt→Built:The Influence of the Progressive Architecture Awards, presented at the national headquarters of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), traced the importance of a venerable awards program established in 1954 to honor as-yet unrealized projects. Could Be: The AIA|DC Awards for Unbuilt Architecture, presented at the new District Architecture Center, showed winning projects from the Unbuilt Awards program created a few years ago by the Washington Chapter of the AIA.

Unbuilt Washington was generously supported by The American Institute of Architects; ARCHITECT Magazine; National Endowment for the Arts; ASSA ABLOY; Grunley Construction; Holland & Knight and Whayne S. Quin, Esq.; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP; STUDIOS Architects; DAVIS Construction; Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts; Dr. Tina Alster and The Honorable Paul Frazer; Robert W. and Louisa C. Duemling; Joseph and Lynne Horning; Milton and Dorothy Sarnoff Raymond Foundation; ZGF Architects; Bonstra Haresign Architects; Heather Willson Cass, FAIA; Lois and Richard England; Mr. Anthony Wolf Greenberg and Dr. Keiko Greenberg; Drs. Linda B. & Jonathan S. Lyons; The Mayo Charitable Foundation; and Albert H. Small Jr.

The exhibition is presented in partnership with The American Institute of Architects, AIA Legacy, ARCHITECT Magazine, Hanley Wood, the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA|DC), and the Washington Architectural Foundation.

The National Building Museum gratefully acknowledges the collaboration of the Library of Congress, the principal lender to this exhibition.


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