The Powder Maker’s Garden

When Pierre S. du Pont bought the deteriorated Longwood Gardens in 1906, he thought that owning property was a sign of mental derangement. Still, he worked hard to create a stupendous fantasy garden, a place, he said, “where I can entertain my friends.”

As I walked down a side path at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, on a bright, sunny day in June, two quite distinct sights converged just in front of me. One was a middle-aged foursome of fellow visitors, all clad in the near-mandatory style of the vacationing 1980s American: immaculate pastel sports clothes and bulbous white sneakers. The other sight was a spectacular tree, one whose branches, instead of ascending toward the heavens, droop mournfully down to the ground—what garden people call a weeping form.Read more »

The Gothic Awakening

The medieval look that swept America a hundred and fifty years ago wasn’t just a matter of nostalgia for pointed archways and crenellated towers; it was also the very model of a modern architectural style



When several local businesses denounced the New York firm of Bowen and McNamee for failing to support the fugitive slave law in 1850, Henry Chandler Bowen replied in the papers that “we wish it distinctly understood that our goods, and not our principles, are on the market.” The threads of idealism and materialism formed the fabric of Henry Bowen’s life, but only rarely could they be disentangled as neatly as Bowen’s announcement suggested. Read more »

Woolworth’s Cathedral

It wasn’t enough for Woolworth that his monument be grand and useful and beautiful—he wanted it to be profitable too.

Ever since technology began to permit it, men of power have sought immortality in stone. Knowing that their deeds, however important, were ephemeral in the nature of things, they hoped that their tombs and statues and palaces might remind the world of their greatness. Shelley, in his haunting sonnet on Ozymandias, showed the essential barrenness of this idea, but that hasn’t stopped men in the least from erecting monuments to their own memories. Read more »

Behind The Federal Facade

An architecture for a new nation found its inspiration in ancient Rome




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The Best Of Georgian

The pilasters and pediments of an architecture perfectly suited to our eighteenth-century aristocracy flourish in today’s skyline and suburb


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III. They’re Still There

The great buildings of the 1920s are standing all over Manhattan, preserving in masonry the swank and swagger of an exuberant era.

New York rebuilt itself in the twenties. The most anarchic, self-regarding, self-proclaiming city of them all achieved its new self by an astounding vertical leap that thrilled, disordered, delighted, and terrified the critics who tried to take its measure. Since then Manhattan has suffered at least three origins of demolition, but many of the classics of that barely believable era remain — almost a miracle in a city where the concrete never sets. Read more »

The Great American Grid

Living in, and with, the universal Midwestern latticework

Likely as not, when René Descartes invented his grid system of coordinates in the seventeenth century, he did not have Carroll, Iowa, in mind. No matter. Carroll, like the rest of the state and a good deal of the nation, is laid out in a Cartesian grid. For this geometric landscape we have the Ordinance of 1785 to thank.Read more »

To Save The World We Built

Every town you pass through has felt the impact of the modern historic-preservation movement. Now a founder of that movement discusses what is real and what is fake in preservation efforts.

Twenty years ago nobody thought much about saving old buildings. The phrase urban renewal had an optimistic, forward-looking sound to it, and entire urban centers were razed with little thought of what might be lost in the process. Today communities across America are fighting to save their architectural heritage. James Marston Fitch, more than any other individual, has championed that cause.Read more »

The House At Hyde Park

A biographer who knows it well tours Franklin Roosevelt’s home on the Hudson and finds it was not so much the President’s castle as it was his formidable mother’s.

For better than four years now I have been writing about Franklin Roosevelt’s youth, seeking the sources of the serene selfassurance that served him and his country so well during the two worst crises since the Civil War. In the course of that work I have spent months at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, New York, burrowing through his papers in search of clues. Read more »

The High Art Of George Hadfield

Some of our finest public buildings were designed by a tormented young English architect whom the world has forgotten

George Hadfield was one of the most distinguished architects ever to practice in this country, yet he is so little known that no book has been written about him and very little has been published in architectural journals. Born in Florence in 1763, the son of an English innkeeper, he arrived in America in 1795 and made Washington his home for the remaining thirty-one years of his life. Among other buildings he designed is Arlington House, now a museum overlooking Arlington National Cemetery.Read more »