The United States Capitol is an impressive building that has witnessed the history of the country, but its image could have been very different from today… Do you want to discover the options that were considered?
With 51 votes against and 49 in favor, the United States Senate will prevent the appearance of witnesses and documents for the famous impeachment against President Trump. Something that continues to be one more example of how the political ins and outs have their own keys. As is usually said, the controversy is served.
The North American Senate is located in the north wing of the Capitol, a building built in 1800 and whose design was born from an architectural competition. Therefore, the building we see today could have been very different had it been chosen differently.
1. The winner
History tells us how William Thornton, doctor, inventor, painter and, of course, architect, presented himself at the last minute with a design that convinced the majority of the Parliament of the time, headed by George Washington. From Thornton’s hands came a neoclassical mansion.
This first design had a small dome on the roof, but the clever doctor (who campaigned against slavery) learned that the president wanted a presidential apartment and a dome. So before submitting his sketches, he greatly increased his dome and the size of the building, earning credits by adding a Roman pantheon (aware that Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, would like it).
William is further proof that work always has to be in line with the tastes of power, so it is not surprising that he took the cat into the water with his modified and spectacular proposal.
With the arrival of 2020, the blog of the American SavingSpot brought to light a project of infographics of what the Capitol would have been like if another of the participating projects had won. Supported by the Neoman design studio, he searched for the best projects and recreated them with current iconographies. The result is images that do not cease to agree with good George, in my opinion.
2. The favorite
The favorite, before Thornton, had been the design of the architect Étienne Sulpice Hallet. Hailing from France, it is an elegant building that, at the request of the commissioners, was modified several times to adapt it to his neoclassical vision. Hallet had ignored several points of the contest, such as the budget.
But the government appointed him superintendent of construction of the Capitol (what envy), and tasked him with improving Thornton’s deficiencies. But what cannot be, cannot be, and the architect was fired from his work. From the looks of it, he pushed too hard.
3. A colonial house
Another highly relevant design was that of Andrew Mayfield Carshore, a former British soldier and teacher. Like Thornton, Carshore did not have any qualifications or experience to prove his architectural training.
When presenting his design, he even dared to draw the Capitol in perspective, something very unusual in the time in which he lived. However, his sketches were inspired by colonial New England houses, with very simple windows, a pavilion, and a central gabled portico. Nothing that caught the attention of Washington, or the jury.
4. A menor house
The fourth design that was chosen for the infographic series was created by James Diamond, an Irishman who practiced his architecture degree on American soil. Diamond brought the design of Dublin’s stately homes to his version of the Capitol.
Above the arched door of the entrance, an exquisite Palladian window can be distinguished (a window with a semicircular opening flanked by two other smaller rectangular ones), with two symmetrical wings with windows on the ground floor culminating in arches. Good old James tried to get the design applied to the White House, but it failed either of his two goals.
5. A Capitol inspired by Hercules
Finally, Phillip Hart’s design, about which little is known, has been brought up to date. Hart’s design tries to identify itself with Renaissance architecture, but it is clear that with little success… For example, the heights between floors are decreasing, so that the last one seems made for infants.
In the form of twelve figures of children in strange positions, he placed the architect? on the deck parapet. It is assumed that with this design, the author wanted to refer to the twelve labors of Hercules.
Any of the exposed designs could have been a good choice, in fact, if we see the original design of the winner and what was built… They have little in common. However, this would also have happened if any other had been chosen, since it is quite clear that the directives of the North American Parliament of the time were emphatically imposed.
Nowadays, the great architectural competitions are usually more respectful, especially if they come from administrations of great importance. Although it is true that it would be unthinkable for people without qualifications or experience to appear in current competitions.
Advances in building design
The current computing means help us to visualize how our buildings can be before, even, to build them, discovering if we like how they will be or if we must change something. In addition, thanks to the BIM system, we can execute the constructions with a degree of greater efficiency, breaking down the construction items into almost exact measurements, visualizing the facilities and possible interferences with other elements of the property.
However, this way of using infographics to remember the past can lead us to better understand the social desires of the time, as well as their tastes.