Canberra: Recording a Vision

Lecture by Professor Christopher Vernon
January 14

In April 1911, the Commonwealth of Australia launched an international competition for the design of its federal capital, later named Canberra. Near the year’s end, in the depths of a frozen Chicago winter, Walter Burley Griffin and his new wife and professional partner, Marion Mahony Griffin, put their heads together and poured their creative energies into recording their shared vision for Australia’s capital.

The outcome was an ensemble of 14 exquisite renderings, each, as London’s Building News and Engineering Journal reported, measuring “five feet by two feet six inches” and “delineated to a very small scale—400 ft to the inch—on account of the gigantic character of the scheme.” Like the design they represented, the renderings also were a collaborative product; the presentation’s scale, scope and production complexities mandated assistance.

To produce these exceptional drawings, the Griffins co-opted office worker Roy Lippincott—soon to be Walter’s brother-inlaw—and Walter’s sister Gertrude for the job. Along with this pair, Marion recorded in her memoirs that George Elgh, another employee, “helped us out with the competition drawings in Chicago.” Graphic artist Miles Sater, later Gertrude’s husband, was another likely contributor.

In this lecture, Christopher Vernon will survey the evolution of Marion’s graphic technique and cast new light on the talented assistants who helped produce the iconic renderings of Australia’s national capital.

Riga's Capital Modernism

Lecture by Professor Steven Mansbach
February 11

For the Baltic republics that emerged in the wake of World War I—as for other newly-established nations in Central Europe—modern art, design, and architecture served as effective means to assert a national identity. But the innovative forms and progressive styles that were so important to the nations’ self-understanding shifted in character over the course of time. This is especially true for Latvia’s architecture, where changes in local political, ethnic, and cultural circumstances constantly inflected the visual character and meanings of modernism. Riga’s own twentieth-century architectural history, beginning with a singularly rich and inventive Jugendstil and culminating in an indigenous authoritarian functionalism articulated in the 1930s, reveals how modernism could depart from a unitary stylistic imperative in order to serve the needs of divergent social, ideological, and economic interests. In fact, the Baltic metropolis’s inventive adaptations of competing expectations and shifting needs enable us to recognize in Riga the creation of a capital modernism that can serve as an interpretative paradigm through which to map cultural narratives materialized throughout the region. 

STEVEN MANSBACH, a Professor of the History of Twentieth-century Art, at the University of Maryland, College Park, focuses his research and teaching interests on the genesis and reception of “classical” modern art, roughly from the last quarter of the nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth. In addition to holding fellowships and university professorships in the United States, Europe, and Africa, he served almost a decade as associate dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at Washington's National Gallery of Art and as the founding dean and director of the American Academy in Berlin.

The Other Side of the Tracks: Charlottesville's Landscape of Prostitution, 1880-1950

Lecture by Professor Daniel Bluestone
March 11

Like other occupations, prostitution has a spatial and architectural context, in some cases modest in other cases monumental. Focusing on a single city, this lecture will explore the landscape of prostitution, considering the ways in which the legal and moral frame shaped the location and architectural form of accommodation. It will also review legal prohibitions against prostitution present particular challenges to historical inquiry. 

DANIEL BLUESTONE is Professor of Architectural History and Director of Historic Preservation at the University of Virginia. Currently Professor Bluestone is a Fellow in Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks. In 2013 The Society of Architectural Historian awarded Professor Bluestone’s book Buildings, Landscapes and Memory: Case Studies in Historic Preservation its Antoinette Forrester Downing Award, which recognizes "the most outstanding publication devoted to historical topics in the preservation field."

Please join the Latrobe Chapter for a members-only a tour of the Octagon House (1799 New York Avenue NW). Katherine Somerville, Director of Programs at the Octagon, will be leading us on an hour-long tour. Ms. Somerville will present the history of change at the Octagon, one of America's finest early residences. 

In 1799, wealthy Virginian John Tayloe III, purchased an oddly-shaped lot at the intersection of 18th Street and New York Avenue, a few blocks north of the Potomac River, to build his family an urban home in the new capitol city. Rather than imposing a regular form upon the irregular site, architect Dr. William Thornton (first architect of the U.S. Capitol) designed a house composed of rectangular masses pivoting off a round entry pavilion, an innovative approach that fitted the functional and social needs of one of the wealthiest men in the new nation onto a difficult, if beautiful property. Taut massing and restrained but well-informed detailing mark the house as one of the finest in the Federal Style period. After it opened in 1801, President Madison occupied the Octagon after the White House burned in 1814, and he signed the Treaty of Ghent, ending the war of 1812, in the house. In the second half of the 19th century, the Octagon housed a hospital and an apartment building. In 1899, the Octagon became the headquarters for the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In 1973, the AIA relocated to a larger building just northeast, which was designed around the historic structure. Now operated as an historic site by the AIA, since 1990 the Octagon has undergone several restoration projects. 

A Members-only Tour of The Octagon

May 3

Mount Vernon is the most replicated building in the United States. Americans slap those spindly white columns onto funeral homes, dry-cleaners, motels, and McMansions. But how and why did George Washington's eccentrically vernacular mansion get translated onto such a wide range of commercial and residential buildings? Over the past 200 years, Mount Vernon has become an iconic architectural image that is flexible enough to serve an astonishing range of building types and functions, political points of view, and understandings of the American past.

Lydia Mattice Brandt is an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, where she teaches architectural history; the history of American art; and the theory, methods, and practice of historic preservation. This summer, she is a fellow at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, where she is finishing her book on the image of Mount Vernon in popular American architecture and culture.

Replicating Mount Vernon

Lecture by Lydia Mattice Brandt, PhD
June 3

Washington, DC, may be the United States’ official capital, but the northern Virginia area is the covert capital of a secret empire. Anchored at one end on the Pentagon and at the other on CIA headquarters, the area has been profoundly affected in its architecture, culture, and politics by the covert business done there, business which touches every part of the globe. 

Join Professor Andrew Friedman of Haverford College for a fascinating discussion of an aspect of the secret world of espionage that you probably never considered: architecture. Afterwards, Professor Friedman will sign his book Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia, and you can examine photographs from the secret files of the International Spy Museum showing long-gone classified CIA facilities around the Washington area.

Cosponsored by the International Spy Museum and the Historical Society of Fairfax County

Exploring the Covert Capital

Lecture by Professor Andrew Friedman, Haverford College
July 16

For more than one hundred years, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts has worked to promote high artistic standards in the design of national symbols, particularly for the design of Washington, DC. The most visible— and controversial—part of the Commission’s work has been the design of national memorials in the heart of the city’s monumental core. Reflecting aesthetic, cultural, and political trends, the memorials reveal a larger perspective about Americans and the presentation of the country’s history in built form. Commission of Fine Arts Secretary Thomas Luebke will present this story of art, planning, and politics as explored in his recent book Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. There will be a limited number of books for sale at the lecture. 

Thomas Luebke has served as Secretary of the U. S. Commission of Fine Arts, the federal design review agency for the nation’s capital, since 2005. He is an architect with over twenty years’ experience in design, planning, and historic preservation in both public and private sectors and was the design leader in the development of the 2009 Monumental Core Framework Plan for Washington, D.C. He is the editor of the 2013 book Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. 

Art, Planning and Politics: The Work of the Commission of Fine Arts

Lecture by Thomas Luebke, FAIA
September 23

November 11, 2018 will mark the centennial of the Armistice ending the Great War. In its aftermath, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) was established to enhance the overseas military cemeteries for the fallen and erect memorials to the combat accomplishments of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Just as the events of World War I are largely forgotten by the American public, the original commemorative program of the ABMC has been overshadowed by its massive World War II American cemeteries in places like Normandy. 

Initially the War Department established eight World War I cemeteries in France, England, and Belgium. ABMC was created in 1923 to improve these cemeteries and manage an ambitious program of overseas monument building. Paul P. Cret became their consulting architect and subsequently guided every aspect of the AMBC construction program. Cret brought in an impressive roster of his architectural contemporaries, including John Russell Pope, Ralph Adams Cram, and George Howe. The architecture and landscapes of the ABMC display a sophisticated Beaux Arts approach, with the Art Moderne, Neoclassical, or Gothic Revival details and forms that characterized some of the best civic architecture of the 1920s and 30s. This lecture will examine overseas military cemetery policy after World War I, the social and political role of the ABMC sites in creating a public memory of the war, and design practices and ideals of the time. 

Lisa Pfueller Davidson, Ph.D., is a historian with Heritage Documentation Programs of the National Park Service. Her work on ABMC is part of a multi-year documentation effort by ABMC and the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) leading up to the World War I Centennial.

Over There: World War I Overseas Cemeteries and Memorials of the American Battle Monuments 

Lecture by Lisa Pfueller Davidson, PhD
November 11

Located in the Brookeville Historic District in Montgomery County, Madison House is the oldest and arguably the most significant structure in this once bustling market town founded by local Quakers. The house was erected ca. 1798 as the residence and store of Caleb Bentley and is a vernacular expression of the Federal style. It is elegantly understated and includes many architectural refinements, yet as originally planned it lacked the formality common to other houses in the region constructed both for families of middling status and the more affluent. Madison House was later altered and expanded to conform to rising and more rigidly defined middle-class expectations, providing a case study for the evolving use of domestic space as it related to gentility and class formation in the early nineteenth century.

Madison House also holds a significant place in the history of the War of 1812. Its present name originated with its use in 1814 as a place of refuge by President James Madison and others fleeing Washington when the British invaded and set fire to the city. The careful stewardship of Madison House was recognized in 2012 when it received the Washington Post award for best historic rehabilitation.

Sandy Heiler, homeowner and Vice Chairman, Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission, and Catherine Lavoie, Chief, Historic American Buildings Survey, will lead the tour. Guidebooks for a short self-guided walking tour of the Brookeville Historic District will also be made available.

A Members-Only Study Tour of the Madison House

November 22