Saturday, July 3, 2010

A magnificent Lutyens design

I lived in Washington, DC as a child, both in Georgetown and near the National Cathedral, and was surrounded by beautiful and interesting architecture; when visiting as an adult, I have a newfound appreciation for all of the character filled houses, striking embassies, and inspirational buildings (the National Cathedral in particular) that were part of my old neighborhoods. Perhaps being surrounded by such architectural inspiration at such a young age had a formative impact on my love for architecture as an adult.


My sister recently moved to Cleveland Park, a fantastic area of DC that is a stone’s throw from the Washington National Cathedral. I took a very brief and last minute trip to DC last week, and loved the location of my sister’s ‘new’ house (it was built in the 1920s, so new to her). Houses and buildings that I had previously only driven by are now easily accessible on foot; during my visit, I spent hours walking, grateful for my iphone, which makes it so easy to take surreptitious pictures of the houses on the walking route. On one of these walks I finally saw a landmark building that has been on my list of things to see: the British Ambassador’s residence, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944). The house was built in the late 1920s, and it is the only building designed by Lutyens in the United States.


Apparently the building was originally designed to be both the Ambassador’s residence as well as office space for the British Embassy. The height of the wings in front was increased by two stories during the design stage as there was a need for more staff quarters. However, in the late 1950s the need for additional space was pressing, so a new building (quite block like, not seen in this picture) was built for the office space.


The chimney stacks on the front of the wings are a design Lutyens used to employ in many of the country houses he designed. According to the British Embassy site, “the present building on Massachusetts Avenue, built of red brick with stone dressings and high roofs crowned with tall chimneys, suggests an English country house of the Queen Anne period”.


The limestone carvings on the chimney caught my eye. The limitation of an iphone is that detail from a distance is not easy to capture, so I might need to go back on my next trip in order to get a better picture.


Beautiful designs abound, even from the street: the unicorn and lion atop limestone pillars were particularly interesting.


The South side of the residence can be seen here – this is the private side not seen from the street (Source). According to the British Embassy site, Lutyens always insisted on materials of the highest quality. The bricks are a custom size and were hand made in Pennsylvania to Lutyens exact specifications; they were designed to look like bricks used during Tudor times. Indiana limestone was used for contrast.


I also had the chance to see a house that I admired ever since seeing a picture on Architect Design’s blog last year. It was designed in the late 1930s by Paul Cret (1876-1945), a French-American architect. The house is so beautiful in person – the colors of the house, the slate roof, the interesting shapes of the windows – all have great appeal to me. Seeing the house within its neighborhood, I was surprised at the small lot! The house is in a prime area of DC, so there is a trade off between land and location.

It is always a thrill to get to see buildings designed by some of the greats of architecture!


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  1. I lived in Georgetown for a few years and never tired of walking and admiring the architecture of the various neighborhood, especially in the Spring when the city is glorious

  2. What an interesting post. I've spent most of the past two years living in New Delhi, where Lutyen design large swaths of the city. I had no idea he had designed anything in the US and it was interesting to compare the styles he used in both locations.

  3. Wow, that would be a nice neighbourhood to stroll around! How interesting, I love how you know the history of the buildings... the Paul Cret home is gorgeous!
    Flick :)

  4. How fun to revisit an area of your childhood with an adult eye. I love DC - I lived there for a summer during college, vowing to return. I've ended up every place else instead! Love Lutyens...as evidenced by the bench by his design that graces my side yard. This was a fun tour --- thanks so much for taking us along!!! xo, Elizabeth

  5. Seeing Moutiers, a home in France, architecture by Lutyens, made something CLEAR.

    Where Frank Lloyd Wright gained immense inspiration.

    For both architecture & landscapes.

    Again, you inspire. Thanks.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  6. you sound like me on a trip...walking for hours stalking buildings with an iPhone! one of my favorite ways to spend a day 'out of town'

    thanks for sharing this, I didn't realize there was ANY Lutyens building in America

  7. I didn't know there were any either. We're fortunate to have one. Seems like the "Auburn School" follows Lutyens more than most. A good thing. (How we bore our families sometimes while architecture stalking.)

  8. Thanks for the interesting post! You know I love all architecture and influences. The residence is beautiful as well.

  9. DC truly has some magnificent architecture -- I'm jealous your sister is getting to live in such a wonderful neighborhood!

    Hope you have a wonderful 4th Holly! And be sure to stop by Odi et Amo: your petite intaglio now has pride of place on my new built-ins!

  10. Wow, stunning! The architecture of the Ambassador's house is beautiful, I love how much detail was in exterior design, I wish things were still built this way.

  11. I never tire of the beauty and architecture of DC and Georgetown either...I was there a month ago and had my arms up snapping pics for so long they began to ache!

    Anything by Lutyens alway leaves me in awe! His meticulous attention to ever detail is just something else!

    I really enjoyed this post!!!

  12. Thank you for the wonderful post on the British Embassy - One of my favourite buildings in DC! This Embassy is really one of Lutyens' hidden gems. Several years ago I had the good fortune to to be taken on a private tour of the ground floor public rooms and the interior is just as phenomenal as the exterior. Chock full of witty Lutyens touches. Definitely worth seeing if one has the opportunity. Compare this to the atrocity of an embassy that the US erected in Grosvenor Square. Sadly, the proposed new embassy promises to be just about as bad.

  13. The architecture of Sir Lutyens is gorgeous! Here in Belgium we have an architect, called Stephan Boens, whos is very inspired of Sir Edwin Lutyens and you can notice that on the houses he builts here in my neighborhood!
    Great post!!!

  14. I'm glad you visited in the respite from our heat wave :-) I've always loved the British Embassy and am just dying to get inside someday!
    I'm glad you liked the Cret house but yes - MINISCULE lot as you point out; surprisingly so. Hope you had a lot of fun here; Cleveland park is probably my favorite neighborhood.


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