The NAS Building

The Architect

John Ruskin's criteria for architects, if rigidly enforced, might decimate the profession. "No person who is not a great sculptor or painter can be an architect," Ruskin wrote. "If he is not a sculptor or painter, he can only be a builder."

Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (1869-1924), architect of the Academy building, recognized these criteria. Writing to his friend, the architect Paul Cret, Goodhue said: I should like to be merely one of the three people to produce a building, i.e., architect, painter, sculptor

... I should like to do the plan and the massing of the building; then ... turn the ornament (whether sculpture or not makes no difference) over to a perfectly qualified sculptor, and the color and surface direction (mural pictures or not as the case may be) to an equally qualified painter.

This division of artistic labor was followed in the Academy building, which is ornamented by the subtle and beautiful sculpture of Lee Lawrie, with whom Goodhue had worked on numerous projects, and the paintings of Albert Herter and muralist Hildreth Meiere.

Goodhue's design of the Academy building was his one great venture into the field of classical architecture, as he preferred freer styles, particularly Gothic and Spanish-Colonial.2 Discussions with him took place over a period of a few years, while the Academy went about the business of acquiring a site. Goodhue was not overly enthusiastic about the final choice, preferring a hilly location on 16th Street that the Academy at one time had considered. Of the land in Foggy Bottom he wrote, "Though bare and uninteresting at present, this is capable of beautiful and effective treatment, though without distinction in itself beyond the fact that it lies within a thousand feet or so of the Lincoln Memorial." Richard Oliver, Goodhue's biographer, called the choice of the site "brilliant for the Academy and its future ... (insuring) that the Academy would share symbolically and physically the imperial composition of the city of Washington."

Proximity to the Lincoln Memorial made use of a classical style inevitable for the Academy building, and for a time Goodhue urged the Building Committee to find an architect who did not share his anticlassical prejudices. George Ellery Hale persisted, however. He had engaged Goodhue to design the campus of the California Institute of Technology, of which Hale was president, and he had come to value the architect's work highly. Hale wrote,

I felt if his interest in the problem could once be aroused, a distinct contribution to architecture would almost certainly result. Yielding at last, and discarding from the outset the customary long row of columns—supporting nothing but the cornice—he set himself the task of developing a facade of extreme simplicity and refinement, relieved only by Lawrie's superb bronzes and by sparse and delicate stone cutting.

Goodhue saw his task as "producing a modern and scientific building, built with modern and scientific materials, by modern and scientific methods for a modern and scientific set of clients." Later, Hale was to speak of how he and Goodhue sought to create a monumental but unpretentious building that would not detract from the Lincoln Memorial.

The Academy proved to be the last of his works Goodhue saw through completion, as he died in 1924, only a few days before the Academy building was to be dedicated. He was 55 years old—an American Institute of Architects Gold Medalist—just coming of age in an architectural career of outstanding achievement. The rank of the Academy in the catalogue of Goodhue's work may be judged by its inclusion among the bas relief images of his greatest buildings carved on his tomb in the Church of the Intercession, New York City.3

Read More:

... A Temple of Science  Recognition of Need  The Architect  The Setting and the Grounds  Description of the Building  The Façade  The Window Panels  The Doors  The Main Foyer and the Great Hall  The Library and the Members' Room  The Lecture Room and the Board Room  The Wings  The Auditorium  The Albert Einstein Memorial


2 Much of his work consisted of churches: St. Thomas' and St. Bartholomew's in New York City; the chapel of the United States Military Academy, West Point; and the chapel of the University of Chicago. He also gained fame from his design of the Nebraska State Capitol. Goodhue's interest in the adaptation of Spanish architecture to the needs of Southern California is evident in the Central Public Library, Los Angeles, and in the Physics Building of the California Institute of Technology, also in the planning scheme for the Caltech campus. For additional information about Goodhue, see Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue by Richard Oliver, 1983, Architectural History Foundation.

3 The Chapel (now Church) of the Intercession was Goodhue's favorite ecclesiastical commission. His long-time collaborator, sculptor Lee Lawrie, designed the tomb.

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