The Architecture of Washington DC


The architecture of many of the monuments and government buildings of Washington DC are quite distinct. From the Lincoln Memorial to National Museum of the American Indian, bold architecture runs throughout the city. There is a rich history behind the designs of these iconic buildings. Even down to how the city was built, strong design is prominent throughout Washington DC.


Neoclassical Style

Neoclassical is the style that is most recognizable throughout this city. It pulls from the styles of Federal and Greek Revival architecture which were heavy influencers during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. During this era was when a majority of the United States government buildings were built. The Capitol Building alone is a prime example of this style of building. The construction of the Capitol Building started in 1793.

Thomas Jefferson also requested that the Congressional House be a replica of an ancient Roman Temple. The Capitol building was reminiscent of Roman cubic architecture, he felt that the Congressional building is modeled after a Roman Sphere-style architecture. The Supreme Court building is another great example of Neoclassical architecture. The large, multiple columns and a triangular top make this building design so identifiable. These designs are so prominent that tours are created for tourists to site-see these stunning buildings.


Street Style

Along with the style of buildings throughout the Washington DC area, the layout of the city’s street system is also quite unique. Rather than having a grid system, such as New York City, Washington DC uses quite a bit of diagonal streets. The city is broken up into four different quadrants with the Capitol building used as the center axis. The road names include the quadrant abbreviation of NW, NE, SE, and SW.  Even the house numbers are dictated by how many degrees they are away from the capitol building.

The diagonal streets which cross through the quadrants are named after states, along with other main roads near popular monuments. A fun fact about the streets is that none of them have the letter “J” in any of the quadrants. This is due to the fact that up until the mid-19th century, the letters “I” and “J” were identical when written. There are other anomalies of street names. “I” street was often written as “Eye” street because it was hard to distinguish it between the letter “L” and the number “1”.

All of these interesting aspects to the way Washington DC was created makes it one of the most unique cities in the nation.

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