The Monuments That Were Never Built

In a new exhibit at the National Building Museum, imagine Washington D.C. as it could have been

(Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY)

Main elevation of Capitol competition entry by James Diamond, 1792

George Washington’s city planner Pierre Charles L’Enfant was initially charged with designing the Capitol. But he was canned when he refused to produce official drawings for the concept “in his head.” In 1792, a design competition was launched. “The competition was fascinating because it shows the status of architecture in America at the time,” says Moeller. “That is to say, there wasn’t one.” Most of the entrants were amateurs, even Thomas Jefferson submitted designs.

Eighteen drawings by 10 draftsmen survive, including one by James Diamond, a builder most likely from Maryland. “This is the one that we all adore, in a funny way,” says Moeller. The design shows a basic understanding of composition on Diamond’s part. And yet, says Moeller, “It is hard to get past what we call the ‘screaming chicken.’” The weathercock on the building’s dome is clearly out of proportion.


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