The NAS Building

The Doors

The building's central entrance on Constitution Avenue, focal point of the façade, adheres to the Greek style. Massive bronze sliding doors are Lee Lawrie's masterwork for the building. Lawrie (1877-1963) has been called the dean of American architectural sculptors. Many of his finest works were done in collaboration with Goodhue, with whom he was philosophically attuned in believing that sculpture should be integral to the architecture of a building and not merely applied as decoration.5 "The history, lore, and contemporary role of science" was the theme chosen by Goodhue for all the decorative elements found in the Academy building. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Lawrie's magnificently embossed doors with their eight panels in low relief, each depicting a major figure in science from Aristotle to Pasteur.

Constructed in the antique manner—of cast plates overlaid on a wooden core—from top to bottom (left to right when one faces the building) the doors show the philosopher Aristotle with his pupil Alexander the Great; another famous teacher, Euclid, the father of geometry; astronomer, mathematician, and physicist Galileo holding a telescope and pointing heavenward with Venice's St. Mark's Cathedral and the Campanile in the background; Newton, the mathematician, perusing a scroll, behind him a design suggesting gravitational forces; the geologist Lyell examining a rock; Darwin, the naturalist, contemplating a skull—in the background a totem symbolizing evolution, a silhouetted mastodon, and the owl of wisdom; the engineer Watt with fly wheel and gears recalling the invention of the condensing steam engine; and Pasteur with microscope and books, saluting Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. Surrounding the main panels a series of medallions portray real and mythological figures, all of whom allude to the search for knowledge.  They include the philosopher Confucius astride a deer, Hammurabi the law-giver, Emperor Charlemagne, the Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda, Romulus and Remus suckled by the wolf, Hercules battling his enemies, Roman and Norse ships, a bison with corn, the owl of wisdom, an elephant, a camel, and a janiform head of Lawrie and Goodhue dated 1923, the years the doors were cast.

Smaller medallions portray Diana, Perseus and the head of Gorgon Medusa, the centaur Chiron, Oedipus questioned by the Sphinx, Apollo slaying the serpent, Vulcan, Sisyphus, Icarus and Daedalus, Icarus falling, Atlas, Orpheus, Athena, Prometheus, Hercules wrestling the lion, a truncated Nike of Samothrace, and Greek athletes. Designs based on botanical themes, rosettes, and mythological beasts fill the spaces between these medallions.

Across the top of the doorway, in a marble pediment, an allegory of the evolution of life presents scientific subjects—earth, sky, water, prehistoric creatures—and also the mythological unicorn. Owls peer from the pediment's corners. At the apex, the sun, source of light and energy, serves as background to a hand holding the figure of a man. Rosettes, the Greek key, and foliage decorate the carved stone doorway lintel and jambs.

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

Photos by Carol M. Highsmith


5 All sculptural elements in the Academy building are Lawrie's creations: the bronze doors and window panels on the Constitution Avenue facade, stone carvings on the building's exterior and interior, cheneau, terrace lamps, bronze doors and lamps in the building's foyer, capitals and window screens in the Great Hall, stone and plaster work in the library, and the bronze doorknobs (one based on an Athenian coin) and bannister finials. Notable among Lawrie's several collaborations with Goodhue were the Nebraska State Capitol, Lincoln, begun in 1922 and completed in 1932, eight years after Goodhue's death; in New York, St. Thomas' Church, the Church of the Heavenly Rest, and the Chapel (now Church) of the Intercession. Important work with other architects included the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York; the bronze "Atlas" and the sculptured stone screen, International Building, Rockefeller Center, New York; "George Washington" at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., several statues for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; and works at the Los Angeles Public Library; Bok Singing Tower, Florida; Louisiana State Capitol; Yale University's Harkness Memorial Tower; and the Memorial Bridge, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The portrait relief of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which appears on the Roosevelt dime, was sculpted by Lawrie. He taught generations of architects and sculptors at Yale and Harvard Universities and was awarded two Gold Medals by the American Institute of Architects (1921 and 1927). Lawrie's other awards included the Medal of Honor of the Architectural League of New York and the National Sculpture Society's Medal of Honor.

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