Favorite Buildings

From time to time, I will post an blog entry by one of my staff, about a favorite building.  Today’s entry is by Lucinda Philumalee, current MRED candidate and Historic Preservation degree holder.

Eisenhower Executive Office Building: Eyesore or Icon?

Located just west of the White House is a Federal building built in the Second Empire style that has been a staple of Washington DC since 1871.  It was designed by a former Supervising Architect, Alfred Mullet, in the Second Empire style.  Formerly known as the Old Executive Office Building, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building has been a source of strong opinion to many who encounter it.

Named for the Second French Empire, Second Empire architecture is a style that became popular in the mid-to-late 1800s and is distinctly European. While Second Empire residential buildings are located around DC, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building is the one of the few, if only, Federal buildings built in this style.

America’s most iconic Federal buildings were built in the style of Greek Revival, which became popular in the 18th and 19th century.  DC was established as the nation’s capital in 1790; thus the built environment reflected what was prominent at the time.  As a result, Americans have a predisposition of what Federal buildings should look like.  Compounded with the fact that Americans are often turned off from anything that is iconoclastic with what they are used to representing the capital and the nation, the Second Empire Eisenhower Executive Office Building is often perceived with distaste.

President Truman described the Eisenhower Executive Office Building as the greatest monstrosity in America.  Mark Twain called it the ugliest building in America.  Perhaps most graphic, historian and author Henry Adams referred to it as Mullet’s “architectural infant asylum.”  Likely it was sentiments such as these, along with the notion that it was an inefficient building that put it at risk for demolition in the 1950s, however those plans never came to fruition.

Once despised for its nonconformist style, opinions of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building have since neutralized.  It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1960s and designated as a National Historic Landmark shortly thereafter.  While many other Greek Revival style Federal buildings require a second glance for identification, the Second Empire Federal building is undoubtedly the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and a DC icon.

Below are a few pictures; If you travel to DC you can make your own decision!

Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Phot from School of Architecture, Plannign and Preservation Visual resources Collection

Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Phot from School of Architecture, Planning, & Preservation Visual Resources Collection

Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Picture form A. D. White Architectural Photographs, Cornell University Library, via The Commons.

Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Picture form A. D. White Architectural Photographs, Cornell University Library, via The Commons.

Eisenhower Executive Office Building from the street. Image from the School of Architecture, Planning, & Preservation, Visual Resources Collection.

Eisenhower Executive Office Building from the street. Image from the School of Architecture, Planning, & Preservation, Visual Resources Collection.

Resources in the Visual Resources Collection

The Visual Resources Collection has various items for student use, besides images. All of these items must be signed out, and should be returned in the same condition that you received them. All items can be borrowed by the hour or overnight. Future Blog posts will focus on individual items, with pictures!!

  • Point-and-Shoot Cameras. We have two Panasonics and one Nikon
  • Video Cameras.  We have two Canon Vixia digital video cameras
  • Flip Video Cameras. Two hour maximum recording time; often used as a voice recorder
  • Clear Plastic Sheets for scanning delicate drawings in the DOC scanner. Approx 22″ x 30″
  • Tripods
  • Dollies with Wheels.  Tripods may be put on these.
  • Photographic lights for model photography
  • Flat panel TVs connected to Macmini computers.  You may also connect your laptop to the TV
  • LCD Projectors that connect to Laptops
  • Laser Pointers
  • Powerpoint Remotes
  • Copystand with lights to photograph delicate drawings and very small models. Make an appointment to use this.

How to Photograph Architectural Models

It is important to photograph your models soon after you complete them.  Drawings generated digitally can always be saved – in multiple places – but models have a way of getting dusty, losing parts, or molding in your parents’ basement. Therefore you should photograph models pretty much immediately after finishing them.  Whites will be whiter, columns will be straighter, and windows less finger-printed now, as opposed to a few weeks from now. And, if you leave them in the School studio space, they will get thrown out!

Plan view of model photography set-up

Plan view of model photography set-up

Model Photography basics: Click on the link to download the PDF instructions.

How to photograph models 12_13_10

A few things to keep in mind:

You can use a point and shoot camera, you dont need an SLR (single lens reflex) camera.  Always use a tripod. This will give you sharper pictures than any handheld shots.

Use two lights; one is a direct light source, and the other will be indirect.  The direct light source acts like the sun, lighting your model from a particular direction.  The indirect light acts as atmospheric, reflected light, and keeps the shadows on your model from being too dark.

Light colored models will look best on a black background.  We have black cloths in the Visual Resources Center, that students may borrow. See the next blog post for other amenities that students may borrow!

What should I do with my old slides?

Here in the Visual Resources Collection we are taking an inventory of everything in the room.

We have LCD projectors, slide projectors, cameras, video cameras, light sets, some books and travel guides; even film cameras of the Nikon variety.

However, the slides, slides, slides, are what I have in the most quantity.  Now, slides are small, so it takes alot of them to take up any amount of space – we have at least 265 drawers full of slides. As part of the stocktaking, the Graduate Assistants are looking at boxes of slides, drawers of slides, scans of slides. We have your pink variety, your purply-orange variety, your overexposed and your really dark variety.  Then there are the fabulously colored Fujichrome and Kodachrome slides of trips from around the world that our professors and students have shared with us over the years.  Records of moments in time, a particularly sunny day, a freshly painted facade, a brand new structure or a really old structure.  Images that document not only an architecture, but a city, a style of car or hairdo, caught on the film chip.

Sidi-Bou-Said, Tunisia. Photo by Bill Bechhoefer

Sidi-Bou-Said, Tunisia. Photo by Bill Bechhoefer

The challenge for me and my student assistants is to decide what stays and what goes.  What is relevant to the School’s mission, and what is just taking up space. Is this slide primary source material or outdated copywork from a book that has been re-issued and updated umpteen times since that slide was taken? For slides that are going to go, here is a beautiful and useful project: Curtains. Or maybe a handbag would be nice.

I plan to post more lovely pictures as we continue with the collection assessment.