James Holban, wax portrait 1800
I raise a pint today to James Holban, the largely unknown Irish-born architect, who won a national competition and designed the White House in 1792. Holban's iconic design stood apart from the rest, for its imposing central pediment and columns. The only revision came from President Washington himself, who wanted the residence enlarged and embellished. "Washington liked what he saw, a bigger footprint for the mansion and an abundance of frills— roses, garlands, acanthus leaves, acorns, griffons— that would awe Americans and impress the most fashionable European visitors" (Bordewich, 2008). For his efforts, Holban was awarded a parcel of land in the new federal city and prizes totaling $500 (about $20,000 by today's estimate). Proof again creatives, the true reward is often not paid in cash, but in the work itself, something lasting and treasured.
White House Elevation, 1793 James Holban
Court House, Charleston, South Carolina 1790 James Holban
Washington met Holban while visiting Charleston in 1791, the architect and his work, made a lasting impression. It is interesting to note, Holban's original White House design was also three stories. The pedestal-like first floor and expensive stone flooring were compromised to save money.
Leinster House, Dublin, Ireland, 1745 Richard Cassels
Holban's inspiration for the Charleston Courthouse and White House designs. Note the alternating pediments above the second floor windows.
A Book of Architecture, 1729 James Gibbs
Predating Holban's design by some 60 years, it is obvious Gibbs had some influence on Holban.
Lastly, I wanted to share one of my favorite things, a plaster model of the White House designed by the British architectural model-maker, Timothy Richards. As you can see, his proportions and attention to detail are masterful. Check out more of his work here.
Bordewich, F. 2008 Washington. New York: Harper Collins.
Additionally, images for this post came from The White House, The History of an American Idea, 2001 by William Seale