The Capitol

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"Principal Floor Plan," by Robert Mills, ink and watercolor on paper, ca. 1851

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Robert Mills, a prominent Washington architect, drew this plan after being asked by the Senate Committee on Public Buildings to combine the best features of other designs submitted in a competition for the enlargement of the Capitol. It shows north and south wings attached directly to the ends of the old building and fronted by semi-circular porticoes. The interior of new wings contained large legislative chambers, additional committee rooms and offices. Mills' plan was eventually rejected.

Architect of the Capitol

"Plan of Principal Story. Design for an Enlargement of the US Capitol, Washington, DC," by Thomas U. Walter, watercolor and ink on paper, 1850

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Congress increased in membership as the country expanded during the 1800s, and by mid-century the building had become overcrowded. One possible way of enlarging the Capitol was to build an addition to the principal, or carriage front. This approach had several advantages over the idea of building a pair of wings: the addition could be constructed on level ground and would not entail enlarging the grounds thereby saving money. Philadelphia architect T. U. Walter proposed this scheme for an eastern addition.

Architect of the Capitol

"Design for an Enlargement of the US Capitol, Washington, DC," by Thomas U. Walter, watercolor on paper, 1850

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Congress increased in membership as the country expanded during the 1800s, and by mid-century the building had become overcrowded. In response to a public invitation for enlargement ideas, Thomas U. Walter designed this vast addition intended to cover the Capitol's entire east facade. A vast new portico would have reused some of the original columns from the portico installed by architect Charles Bulfinch inthe 1820s.

Architect of the Capitol

“Perspective View of a Design for Enlarging the U.S. Capitol,” (detail) by Thomas U. Walter, 1850

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“Perspective View of a Design for Enlarging the U.S. Capitol,” by Thomas U. Walter, 1850 (never built)

The Capitol had been completed for only 24 years before the Senate found it necessary to stage a design competition for its enlargement.  Thomas U. Walter, a prominent Philadelphia architect, submitted this design that called for expanding the building eastward into the spacious front garden.  Although this design did not win the competition, President Millard Fillmore later appointed Walter architect of the Capitol extension based on an entirely different design concept.

East front of the Capitol, by Alexander Jackson Davis, ca. 1832-34

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East front of the Capitol, by Alexander Jackson Davis, ca. 1832-34

Davis made a minute examination of the Capitol’s complicated plan and recorded it in a series of drawings that remain the most accurate record of the building as first completed. He also drew this charming view of the east front showing the wood-and-copper dome framed by a pair of enormous American flags.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The Capitol, Looking Southwest, attributed to George Strickland, ink on paper, ca. 1830

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The Capitol, Looking Southwest, attributed to George Strickland, ink on paper, ca. 1830

This finely drawn view of the Capitol was taken from a low vantage point to emphasize the building’s elaborate carved stonework. At this perspective the roof’s many lanterns and chimneys disappear behind the balustrade.

Architect of the Capitol

View of the Capitol, by Charles Burton, watercolor on paper, 1824

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This view of the Capitol was a gift to the Marquis de Lafayette to commemorate his speech delivered in the Hall of the House in 1824. The artist shows workmen constructing the earthen terraces along the western front, while in the foreground are the Lombardy poplars planted during Thomas Jefferson’s administration.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY

Details of the Hall of Representatives, by B. Henry Latrobe, 1815

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Details of the Hall of Representatives, by B. Henry Latrobe, 1815

Latrobe designed a clock to be placed over the principal entrance to Hall of the House. A figure of Clio, the Muse of History, was shown riding a winged chariot, the wheel of which was formed into a clock face. The sculpture's message was clear: History will watch over the nation's legislators deliberating in the chamber below. Carved by Carlo Franzoni, the sculpture can be seen today in National Statuary Hall.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

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