Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Visiting Dumbarton Oaks, Georgetown

This past weekend offered beautiful fall weather, perfect for our Mid-Atlantic ICAA tour of Dumbarton Oaks arranged by landscape architect and boardmember Jennifer Horn.
Dumbarton Oaks has been owned by Harvard University since the early 1940s and hosts a number of their graduate programs on campus.  Sections of the famous gardens are open to the public and their renowned museum has a separate entrance on 32nd street NW.
Although much changed and constantly evolving, the gardens are the the work of famous landscape designer Beatrix Farrand, seen in the portrait above.
Unfortunately the house is undergoing some renovation work (roof and some structure being replaced) so scaffolding covered the neo-Georgian facade. You can see photos of the house at my earlier post from 2009 HERE.
The library is housed in the wing seen above designed by Thomas Waterman -a really spectacular period room in which one can study the antique landscape books in an elegant setting.
This grotto is only one of the many charming spots to be found throughout the gardens. The modern balustrade is very plain-jane compared to others found throughout the property but I suppose it meets code (most ugly railings do).
One of the best parts of attending the ICAA tours (everyone is welcome btw!) is that you get an opportunity to see many behind the scenes areas not open to the general public.
I had never seen most of the campus before and was thrilled with many of the original structures like the green house above, where plants are still grown for the gardens. The brick structure in the center was originally designed to be the library until someone came to their senses and realized antique books and water don't mix!
Washington is enjoying a spectacular fall this year which doesn't often happen. So often I feel we move directly from summer into winter.
 Many of the older structures such as the garage above have been wonderfully preserved on the exterior while the interiors have been unfortunately gutted and rebuilt in an institutional manner. Don't even ask about some of the modern buildings I'm not showing here and other work done on campus by architectural firm Robert Venturi - the less said there the better ( # inappropriate, # generic, # ugly ).
Many of us architects marveled at the lovely back door above - nicer than the front doors on many houses! Also notice the intricate brick paving patterns designed by Farrand.
The use of ornate brick and stone walls throughout the hilly, terraced gardens is one of my favorite aspects.
 While these are special details, they are to be found throughout the entire property.
Above is one of the many railing designs by Farrand - this may not meet modern day codes but is none-the-less pleasing to the eye.
Even the simple wooden garden bench above has lovely details; notice the scrolled bracket to the sides.
Inside the museum there are more wonderful treasures to check out. I particularly like the antique byzantine mosaics which are built into the flooring. The rather strange addition by Phillip Johnson, celebrating its 50th birthday, is growing on me and is a great example of marrying a modern addition to a classical structure (Robert Venturi take note!). Please join the ICAA on our next adventures and be sure to check out Dumbarton Oaks while in Washington, you won't be disappointed!

6 comments:

Stephilius said...

What wonderful, charming details. The masonry tendrils trailing over the brick in the fourth from last image just makes me swoon!

Dean Farris said...

Oh, how I used to love to visit these old gardens!
Can still smell the box woods!
Dean

Windlost said...

Lovely - thanks for the garden tour! I was just reading about Beatrix Farrand the other day - she had designed a property in Maine we visited last summer and I came across her name again. Twice in one week! Dumbarton Oaks was on my list last time but I didn't make it! Your comment on Robert Venturi was funny - how do they allow some of this stuff? Recently an attractive public building was built in Calgary and people complained that it was "too nice" (for institutional use) and the project manager said "well, we got quotes for ugly buildings and we got a quote for an attractive one and it wasn't any higher so we chose it". I was happily surprised as there doesn't seem to be much charming or lovely about many new buildings these days.
Hope your long autumn persists...!

Terri

deana sidney said...

Thanks so much for making the comment about the fencing. I think about that ALL the time. What a crime about codes. That verdigris chain is just HEAVEN. The grotto fence ruins the feeling of the grotto -- wish we could see what was originally there -- do you think the steps are original? I almost wonder if the walls were higher??? Farrand was a genius.
I'm going to have to peak at the bad additions too, just can't help myself.
\

Mark Ruffner said...

Hi, Stefan,

Thanks for including the photo of the sculpture overlapping the brick wall — I've never seen anything like that before, a very handsome touch.

Row homes and Cobblestones said...


Lovely tour ... I am spellbound by the gardens cement details over the brick. Simply amazing.