UNITED STATES CAPITOL, WASHINGTON, D.C.

   In 1803, Benjamin Latrobe was hired as the Surveyor of Public Buildings of the United States and began to work in Washington, D.C., most notably on the United States Capitol, which he began that year and modified throughout his life. The Capitol was originally designed in 1792 by William Thornton in the Neo-Classical style; it featured wide wings meant to house the Senate and House of Representatives. After a series of architects struggled with the logistics of construction, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson hired the more experienced Latrobe to oversee the work. Latrobe added a monumental stairway leading up to the entrance of the building and created a large colonnaded portico to emphasize the front of the building. After the building was damaged in the War of 1812, Latrobe repaired the side wings and introduced on the interior a more opulent marble style, while modifying the interior Corinthian capitals to include corn and tobacco leaves instead of the traditional acanthus leaves. Final renovations were completed later in the century by Charles Bulfinch, who is credited with creating a taller dome.
   The Capitol, in its Neo-Classical style, symbolizes the democratic principles upon which the United States was founded. The building rises above Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall in down-town Washington, D.C., and has over 16 acres of floor space. Its three-story white exterior is divided into three parts, with a central portico topped by the dome, flanked by two broad side wings set back from the entrance portico. The ground floor is made of a more rusticated stone, while the upper registers are smooth. Windows on each of the three stories alternate with colossal pilasters across the wide façade. The central portico is also divided into three parts, with its own wings receding and articulated with four columns each, while the main part of the portico reaches out with a colonnade of eight columns topped by a triangular pediment. The entire roofline is capped by a classical balustrade. Above that, the dome stretches up onto a two-tiered drum; the lower portion of the drum features a free-standing colonnade, while the upper part of the drum is lined with windows. The dome itself alternates ribs with oval oculus windows and is capped by a lantern topped by a colossal bronze statue of the Allegory of Freedom. As one of the most important buildings in United States history, this Neo-Classical structure provided a strong visual link between the new United States government and the philosophical and political ideals of Ancient Greece.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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