Wednesday, May 14, 2014

John Russell Pope tour and an upcoming ICAA event

I recently had the honor to host a lunch time tour of the John Russell Pope designed National Gallery of Art for the Mid-Atlantic branch of the ICAA of which I sit on the board.
Probably my favorite public building in a city of favorites, this classical gem was designed by architect John Russell Pope for Andrew W. Mellon. Mellon (basically and in short) gifted the building and the basis of its collection to the nation. In an odd twist of fate both Mellon and Pope passed away in August,1937 before the Galleries' dedication in 1941.
Clad in Tennessee pink marble the Neoclassical structure harkens the growing trend towards modernism while still looking to the past, as does much of its' collection.
Below you can see some early sketches by Pope which show the partee or basic plan as well as the massing of the building.
Largely based on Rome's Pantheon with wings housing the galleries, the structure incorporated the latest technology of the time which has held up remarkably well considering the wear and tear the building receives on a daily basis (including a recent earthquake)!
The central rotunda is my favorite space in the museum and possibly the city. The columns surrounding the central fountain are solid marble (quite the engineering feat getting those into place) which visually support a large coffered dome. While appearing to be the same stone as the rest of the interior, the dome is actually composed of plaster with a steel frame.
Indeed the entire structure is concrete and steel based with a very (modern) veneer of marble. It hides his secret well.
On either side of the rotunda are 2 skylit sculpture courts. As throughout the museum most spaces on the piano nobile are daylit by large skylights.
 The building itself is an encyclopedia on classical detailing.
I love this bronze lantern in one of the vestibules -notice the Greek key and architectural motifs.
The openings in the galleries themselves are clad in different materials -here in Italian travertine with silk damask walls (dating to the 1980s)
Seen above the current chief architect for the museum, Susan Wertheim, talks to the group about the Pantheon influence in front of Panini's painting, Interior of the Pantheon.
Speaking of classical detailing the ICAA has an upcoming lecture by Phillip James Dodd centered on his new book The Art of Classical Details on Thursday, May 22nd - a fascinating lecture not to be missed!
Information and tickets to the lecture can be purchased from the website; look towards the bottom of the events page linked HERE. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Lutyen's British Embassy: Main Stair

The main staircase at the British Embassy was designed by Lutyens to awe all visitors and make a grand statement. The entrance to the embassy is somewhat discreet.
One arrives underneath a classical porte cochere in the center of the complex (underneath D on the plan above) and into the main stairhall; the residence is a piano nobile design which cleverly aids the hilly topography - but we'll get into that later.
Symmetry and classical design reign on the exterior; a rather quiet facade gradually gives way to grandeur as one enters the residence.
Many of the light fixtures throughout were custom designed - the fluorescent light bulbs are really unfortunate but do not hurt the fundamental beauty of the lantern.
 Upon entering through french doors directly to one's left is a bust of the architect, Edwin Lutyens.
 Light pours into the lower level from windows above inviting one up. Further emphasizing this ascent are the walls which turn from heavy Indiana limestone to a lighter plaster.
 I loved the cascade of the lower risers which leads one to a short landing and the cloak rooms.
The most impressive detail of the space is the railing itself. Below is a sketch by Lutyens from early on in the design in 1925.
As you can see it didn't change much. This motif graces the endpapers of the new book on the embassy as well; The Architecture of Diplomacy.
 I love the furnished landings and I'll again point out the print gallery walls as well, installed in 2012.
Symmetry is key in the stair hall as throughout the residence. The interior window below to the right opens into an interior room: the morning room. Lutyens commonly designed such interior windows into his residential projects; supposedly so children could watch the festivities during parties!  A false mirrored window stands opposite the landing to attain this perfect symmetry.
 The placement of these ginger jars is perfection.
The ladies cloak room off the stairhall features Fornasetti's very stylish 'Teatro' wallpaper -manufactured by a very British company naturally, Cole & Son. I loved these lanterns which flanked the opening.
The entry to the public spaces of the residence feature ornate plaster-work as well as lovely urns on pedestals.
 A closeup of the plaster work reveals native flowers with classical figures.
Join me in following posts for more on the public spaces of the British Embassy.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The most beautiful stair in Washington: Lutyen's British Embassy

My favorite part of the tour of the British embassy was seeing the small private stair which leads from the public rooms to the private spaces of the residence; this is probably the most beautiful stair I've seen in DC.
 Lutyens took particular care with his staircases as he enjoyed the drama and panache they provide to any structure. Here he took a circular stair one step further by incorporating a circle into the iron handrail.
The floorplan above shows the location of the private stair (L). The circle made for a compact stair that could fit to the side of the public circulation.
The treads are limestone cantilevered (in parts) from the limestone walls. To provide a graceful ascent Lutyens designed many of his stairs with very short risers and long treads.
 Displayed in the stairwell is this colorful silk banner of the Royal Arms once owned by William  IV.
 A window on the 2nd floor allows natural light into the space.
A very regal portrait graces the top landing - Queen Victoria perhaps? I'll share a very different stair from the house shortly, the Grand staircase.
Floorplan from The Architecture of Diplomacy, The British Ambassador's Residence in Washington. Photographs are my own.