The Architectural History of the White House

The countdown to Independence Day has begun! Only 3 days until we come together for family barbecues, parades, concerts, and setting off fireworks in the backyard. Of course, these are activities we only get to enjoy because of the freedoms we were granted on that historic day in 1776. The Fourth of July is a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, declaring that the thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and were no longer part of the British Empire.

When you think about the United States of America, what is the first building that comes to mind? The White House, right? That’s the first building that pops into my head! I remember my first trip to Washington D.C. when I was only 7 or 8 years old. My family did the public tour of the White House. I saw Socks, the Clintons tuxedo cat! It was so neat to be in the same room where so many great presidents had been before. So, in honor of the upcoming Fourth of July, I want to explore the history of our great Nation’s famous White House.

The White House is the official residence and primary office space for the President of the United States. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW in Washington D.C. It has been the residence of every U.S. president since John Adams was in office in the year 1800.

jamesWhile on his “Southern Tour” in May of 1791, President George Washington visited Charleston, SC and saw the under-construction Charleston County Courthouse designed by James Hoban. The President met with Hoban and summoned him to Philadelphia (the nation’s capital at the time). In 1972, Washington met with the federal city (aka Washington D.C.) commissioners to make his judgment in the architectural competition that had been established. He selected Hoban’s design but requested that the design is changed to a two-story home with an 11-bay facade.

The White House was built between 1792 and 1800. It was built with white-painted Aquia Creek Sandstone and inspired by the neoclassical style. Neoclassical architecture is an architectural style produced by the neoclassical movement that began in the mid 18th-centurty. In its purest form, it is a style principally derived from the architecture of classical antiquity, and emphasizes the wall rather than contrast and maintains separate identities to each of its parts. This form of architecture came to life because of a desire to return to the purity of the arts of Rome and Ancient Greece.

Thomas Jefferson moved into the White House in 1801. Architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Jefferson added low colonnades on each wing that concealed stables and storage. Today, Jefferson’s colonnades link the residence with the East and West Wings.

fireIn 1814, during the War of 1812, the White House was set ablaze by British troops during the Burning of Washington. Only the exterior wall remained, and even they had to be torn down and mostly reconstructed with help from Fusion Exteriors because of weakening from the fire and subsequent exposure to the elements (except for portions of the south wall). After the fire, both architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Hoban contributed to the design and oversight of the reconstruction, which lasted from 1815 to 1817.

As the years went by, and new Presidents lived in the White House, many things were changed. Theodore Roosevelt had all work offices relocated to the newly constructed West Wing in 1901. Eight years later, William Taft expanded the West Wing and created the first Oval Office, which was eventually moved as the section was expanded. Under Harry S. Truman, the interior rooms were completely dismantled and a new internal load-bearing steel frame constructed inside the walls.

The modern-day White House complex includes the Executive Residence, West Wing, East Wing, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and the Blair House (guest residence). The term “White House” is often used as a metonym (substitute) for the Executive Office of the President of the United States and for the president’s administration and advisors in general, as in “The White House has decided that…” The property is a National Heritage Site owned by the National Park Service and is part of the President’s Park. In 2007, it was ranked second on the American Institute of Architects list of “America’s Favorite Architecture,” behind the Empire State Building.

Research: Vectorworks

Vector worksAs I said in my New Years post, I want to learn how to use Vectorworks so I can be of more assistance to Larry. So, before I start learning how to use the program, I thought I could learn about where it came from and how it has evolved and other interesting tid-bits of information!

Vectorworks, Inc. is a global design software developer serving the architecture, landscape and entertainment industries. It was founded in 1985 as Diehl Graphsoft, Inc. The company produces the Vectorworks family of software, which includes Vectorworks Designer, Architect, Landmark, Spotlight, Fundamentals, and Renderworks. These programs are CAD software designed with the intent to help designers communicate effectively and bring their visions to life while keeping building information modeling (BIM) at the heart of the design process. Their headquarters is in Columbia, Maryland and is a part of the Nemetschek Group.

This software has played a formative role in the CAD industry, redefining the marketplace by setting a high standard for its products, and continually testing and refining them to surpass users’ expectations. It has become internationally respected in both CAD and BIM technology categories. The company created one of the first CAD programs, one of the first 3D modeling software programs and the first cross-platform CAD application. They started out as exclusively available for Apple iOS, but later came out with a version that also worked for the PC.

Over half a million designers rely on Vectorworks technology on a daily basis. They include architects, landscape architects, entertainment designers, product designers, and many more! The fact that it is a tool used by designers gives me confidence that I will be able to learn the technology without a problem. And what is even more interesting – Vectorworks products are put to work in more that 85 countries in ten different languages! Besides English, Vectorworks products also come in Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Norwegian.

Another outstanding feature of Vectorworks’ corporate identity is its fanatical devotion to responsiveness to customers. The company’s hands-on training seminars and self-guided training options provide users with a variety of learning tools for the software. Their website has an overwhelming amount of resources from training videos to technical support to inspirational ideas! I am looking forward to this new challenge! We were also recommend to visit Computer repairs in Ipswich for details on how to resolve computer problems.

Exploring the Architecture of Florida

Florida is known for its beautiful weather, sandy beaches, and weird news stories. Aside from those more well-known qualities, I think we have some pretty impressive architectural structures in this state that don’t get enough credit! I am lucky to live in a rapidly growing city (St. Petersburg) which includes many buildings on my list. However, I will also be venturing out of the St. Petersburg to places such as Tampa, Miami, Lakeland, and St. Augustine.

daliSalvador Dali Museum – St. Petersburg

The Dali Museum located in my home town houses the largest collection of Dalí’s works outside Europe. Designed by Yann Weymouth of the architectural firm HOK and built by The Beck Group, under the leadership of then-CEO Henry C. Beck III, it was built on the downtown waterfront next to the Mahaffey Theater, on the former site of the Bayfront Center, an arena that was demolished in 2004. The new, larger and more storm-secure museum opened on January 11, 2011. Reportedly costing over $30 million, this structure features a large glass entryway and skylight made of 1.5 inch thick glass. Referred to as the “Enigma”, the glass entryway is 75 feet tall and encompasses a spiral staircase. The remaining walls are composed of 18-inch thick concrete, designed to protect the collection from hurricanes. It is the perfect structure to hold the strange and unique artwork of Salvador Dali.


Florida Polytechnic University – Lakeland

Every time that I make a trip to Orlando, I get to drive past this massive, alien-like structure. One of these days I am going to stop and go inside! I think it is the coolest college building in Florida, if not the country! Florida Poly resides on a new 170-acre campus designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava that features a 160,000-square-foot Innovation, Science and Technology (IST) Building. The IST Building is home to the University’s Supercomputer, 3-D printing lab and digital library. Florida Poly is the first university whose main library is totally digital. Florida Poly opened for classes on August 25, 2014 with an inaugural class of 554 students.

tampa hotel

Tampa Bay Hotel (now Plant Hall at University of Tampa) – Tampa

This former hotel is now one of the main buildings of the downtown campus of the University of Tampa and houses the Henry B. Plant Museum. It was built in the late nineteenth century by the railroad magnate Henry B. Plant as a luxury resort hotel, open from December to April. It had more than 500 rooms and hosted such famous guests as Teddy Roosevelt and Stephen Crane. Most of the rooms had their own baths, electricity and telephones, and luxury accoutrements from art work, Venetian mirrors, fine porcelains,and beautiful furniture–many examples of which can be seen today in the Plant Museum. This Gilded Age hotel provided a self-contained vacation, with delivery by train to the front door, rickshaw transportation through the exotic gardens, tennis, golf, and hunting, as well as water sports, formal balls and tea parties. University of Tampa is an all around gorgeous campus – and this building really makes it stand out in the city.



St. Paul’s Lutheran Church – Sarasota

St. Paul’s was built in 1958 by Victor A. Lundy. Lundy, trained at Harvard, got his start as an architect in Sarasota. Although he designed various types of buildings – civic, commercial, and religious – his churches often are a modern variation of Gothic with steep soaring roofs. He often used laminated wood beams and wood roof decking because it was an economical solution to span wide naves. In this particular project, window slits border both sides of the “buttress” and add interesting stained glass lighting effects in the interior.


Tampa Museum of Art – Tampa

The building, by architect Stanley Saitowitz, is designed to look like “an electronic jewel box sitting on a glass pedestal” and makes use of aluminum, glass, and fiber optic color-changing lights in the exterior walls to “make the building itself a work of art”. The interior is more neutral, with mostly white surfaces and subdued lighting. The architect describes it as “a frame for the display of art, an empty canvass to be filled with paintings, a beautiful but blank container to be completed by its contents.” It includes a gift shop and an indoor/outdoor cafe. In 2010, the Tampa Museum of Art was chosen as a winner of an American Architecture Award by The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design.


Castillo de San Marcos – St. Augustine

The Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. Located on the western shore of Matanzas Bay in the city of St. Augustine, FL, the fort was designed by the Spanish engineer Ignacio Daza. Construction began in 1672, 107 years after the city’s founding by Spanish Admiral and conquistador Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, when Florida was part of the Spanish Empire. The fort’s construction was ordered by Governor Francisco de la Guerra y de la Vega after the destructive raid of the English privateer Robert Searles in 1668. Work proceeded under the administration of Guerra’s successor, Manuel de Cendoya in 1671, although the first stone was not laid until 1672.



Carlyle Hotel & McAlpin Hotel – Miami (Art Deco)

Art Deco curves abound in this stylish hotel–from the curved corners moved around to the side, emphasized by the eyebrows which follow the undulation, to the semicircular eyebrows over the front windows and those which halt the facade’s vertical fluting. The canopy here for the front porch is also the base for the upper stories, which is supported by delicate fluted columns. The decoration at the top is filigreed masonry. It was built by Richard Kiehnel and John Elliot in 1939. The McAlpin hotel (bottom) was built in 1940 by L.Murray Dixon. The McAlpin, includes the standard Art Deco tripartite facade. The vertical member in the central bay would have originally had a marquee. The signage over the door is very stylized.

Thank you Wikipedia and Bluffton for the information used in this blog!

How to Write About Architecture

Writing has always been my “thing.” As a child, I would write stories and proudly read them to my parents. As a teenager, I would keep a journal to express my feelings via angst-filled poems or song lyrics. My passion for writing turned into a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and several years of freelance writing for Creative Loafing Tampa and tbt.

Now, as a blogger/assistant for an Architect, it is important that I acquire a valuable understanding of how to write, specifically, about architecture. I discovered an excellent article written by Paul Keskeys titled “How to Write About Architecture.” He offers five helpful hints for capturing the complexities of the built environment, without being repetitive or full of clichés. In the article, he explores the book 10x10_3 – an expansive volume on emerging architecture firms by 10 distinguished writers, which proves that it is possible to write about buildings and their architects while still engaging readers outside of the field.

1. A Personal Perspective – It is important to instantly engage readers by “conjuring up intimate imagery and adopting an unusual first-person perspective.” Don’t be afraid to use colorful language and add your own personal opinions. As an example, Keskeys sites Bart Goldhoorn (founder and publisher of Project Russia) because of his use of personal preconceptions of the avant-garde designers at CEBRA:

“A decade ago, when reflecting upon Danish architecture, I imagined quiet, pipe-smoking, corduroy-clad men, a bit dull perhaps, producing responsible and ecologically sound architecture with a light postmodern touch. At best one could expect neat modernism. The architects at CEBRA… do not fit this image of Danish architects.”

His approach to the subject painted a vivid and elaborate picture for the reader, making it more interesting and relatable. “The writer’s honesty and personal perspective adds clout to the visceral project description that follows.”

2. Visceral Imagery – Visceral by definition means characterized by or dealing with coarse or base emotions; earthy. “As a highly visual construct, architecture is best framed by words that conjure emotive images in the mind of the reader.” Bring the building to life in the reader’s imagination, as if they were standing right in front of it. Keskey quotes Shumon Basar as an example of this point:

“Hundreds and thousands of brightly colored confetti were strewn across the floor, a carpet of delicately disorganized paper detritus. A few black chairs were scattered about. The rest of the pavilion seemed empty, almost abandoned, bereft of the usual feverish desire to explain, show off, divulge, or disclose.”

This picturesque description breathes life into a simple office space.

3. Rhetorical Questions – “While most architectural journalists will be wary of Betteridge’s law ‘Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no’ – there are some instances in which questions can be utilized to strengthen an argument.” Asking the reader a rhetorical question can guide them into a deeper evaluation of the topic. They will ponder it in their head, and read on to see what you wrote on the subject, then compare. Keskey sites Joseph Grima, a New York-based architect and critic, as a prime example:

“To understand the true measure of the accomplishments of Bjarke Ingels… consider this: when was the last time reporters from every corner of the world were seen scrambling to cover the opening of a building by a thirty-three-year-old architect?”

The question presented does not need to be answered. It is simply there to emphasize the unsurpassed achievements of such a young firm.

4. Metaphors & Similes – It is very common for writers to use metaphors and similes to help the reader get a better understanding of what they are describing. “When trying an unfamiliar food,” Keskey explains, “we often ask the question: what does it taste like?” It is a natural human reaction to seek clarity via comparison – and this also applies in architecture. Metaphor and simile can provide beneficial observations into the many different qualities of a space. Keskey sites Andrew McKenzie, the editor-in-chief of Architectural Review Australia to illustrate his point:

“A good example is the Leaf Chapel in Kobuchizawa, a wedding chapel conceived as two leaves. One is glass and stationary, the other perforated white steel that lifts as the groom lifts his bride’s veil.”

For the large majority of readers who won’t have the chance to actually visit the chapel, his reference to leaves and the bridal veil offer a palpable vision of the building’s rare features.

5. Personification – Obviously it is important to describe the physical characteristics of architecture, but using more unique and playful adjectives and jargon will elevate your writing and bring it to life. Keskey uses a portion of an article written by Carlos Jimenez to portray how great of an effect personification can have:

“The SGAE Headquarters is a porch-like building whose elongated screen wall is a marvelous concoction of tumbling and irregular granite pieces, all held captive in a resilient dance of weight, light and gravity.”

The use of words such as “tumbling,” “held captive,” and “dancing” give the building dynamic, human-like qualities.

This article has given me a deeper confidence to write about architecture. Describing the different attributes of a building or space can be very similar to writing a reflective essay on a unique individual. Each structure can be treated as a living thing in order to help bring it to life in writing.

Here are the buildings that were described in article. Did you picture them like this when reading?

  1. Bakkegard School by CEBRA
  2. Agriculture School by Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen
  3. The Mountain by Bjarke Ingels Group
  4. Leaf Chapel by Klein Dytham Architecture
  5. SGAE Headquarters by Antón García-Abril and Ensamble Studio




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Bachelor of Design – Getting a Degree in Architecture

architecture_student_memeAfter some Googling, I have come to the understanding that Architecture Majors do not sleep, at all – according to the various memes anyway. Okay, maybe meme’s are meant to be a little exaggerated, but there has to be some truth behind them in order for them to be funny. So what do these sleepless nights consist of while studying architecture? I choose the University of Florida curriculum as an example because that is where my boss received his degree. Sorry, Mom & Dad (my parents are Florida State University graduates and still die-hard Seminole fans).

The website states that “a student’s creativity and individuality are rewarded in the School of Architecture’s studio-based learning experience. Students benefit from the close student-to-teacher ratios and a true interdisciplinary learning environment.” What is studio-based learning, you ask? Great question. “The studio sequence progressively and thoroughly explores various formal, conceptual, and technical considerations and how they interrelate in the creation of space. The ideas and experience that students gain in design studio are reinforced and amplified by support courses in history, theory, structural tectonics, building technology, and construction materials and methods.” The studio-based learning environment sounds like the perfect place for a creative mind to thrive: learn-by-doing, not learn-by-watching. Students must complete both the 5-year Bachelor degree and the 1-2 year Master degree in order to be accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) and to acquire jobs in a private practice.

Here is the Recommended Semester Plan, as presented by the University of Florida:

Semester 1
Architectural Design 1
Architectural History 1
(Composition, Math, Science)

Semester 2
Architectural Design 2
Architectural History 2
(Elective, Science)

Semester 3
Introduction to Digital Architecture
Theory of Architecture 1
Architectural Design 3
Precalculus: Algebra & Trigonometry

Semester 4
Architectural Design 4
Materials & Methods of Construction 1
Physics 1

Now here is the kicker – at this university, at the end of the fourth semester, “students will be selected to continue according to a competitive ranking of all applicants overall GPA, architectural GPA and faculty evaluation of design quality in the annual pin-up exhibits.” Talk about stressful! I cannot even imagine that situation. No wonder I studied journalism…

Semester 5
Architectural Design 5
Introduction to Architectural Structures
Architectural History 3

Semester 6
Advanced Topics in Digital Architecture
Architectural Design 6
Environmental Technology 1

Semester 7
Architectural Theory 2
Architectural Design 7
Environmental Technology 2

Semester 8
Building Information Modeling
Materials & Methods of Construction 2
Architectural Design 8

Graduate School:

Fall Semester
Advanced Studio 1
Structures Wood Steel Concrete

Spring Semester
Advanced Studio 2
Research Methods
Environmental Technology Option

Fall Semester
Advanced Studio 3
Master’s Research Project / Thesis Prep
History/Theory Option

Spring Semester
Thesis or Master’s Research Project
Professional Practice

Holy guacamole… that’s one heck-of-a schedule! I have even more respect for my boss now, after reading that. I mean, I always knew Architecture combined creativity and physics and mathematics, but I guess to see it all laid out like that and compare it to MY college schedule… wow! All of a sudden those meme’s dedicated to architecture students make complete sense! Seriously, Google “Architecture Student Meme’s” – they are too funny. So if anyone reading this has the dream of being an architect… be prepared for more than 4 years of college, a LOT of hard work, and a good dose of competition.