Friday, May 18, 2007

Buildings of the District of Columbia by Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee

By this time last year, I had reviewed four books about New Orleans. This is my first look at Washington, DC books in preparation for attending the American Library Association Annual Conference in late June. My own need for study is a little less this year, as I have been to DC in the past and have seen most of the major sites. Still I want to be an informed visitor, so I plan to read and skim a few books in the next month.

I am starting with Buildings of the District of Columbia by Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, published in 1993. Of course, there are new buildings in Washington since that date, such as the Holocaust Museum, but most of the architecture of the city is old and preserved for the citizens and visitors to see. This book, which includes both public and residential buildings, is still useful for tourists with architectural interests. It is arranged by neighborhoods, starting with the Mall, and describes hundreds of buildings, some in great detail.

For example, Scott and Lee devote about three pages to the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, 1871-1897. They tell readers that it was "the first building in Washington to express fully the tenets of the Beaux-Arts system of architecture." They explain that the architects modelled the building on the Paris Opera House of 1861-1875, replacing the theater with a reading room. They also describe the external and interior ornamentation, saying that like many Victorian era buildings, the art and sculpture is very symbolic. In the end, they state that the decoration is overdone and criticize the columns on some staircases as being poorly proportioned.

Black and white photos and maps are included. A glossary of architectural terms is included, just before the index.

Buildings of the District of Columbia was the first book in the Society of Architectural Historians Buildings of the United States series. The series is intended to be a comprehensive survey of all the architecture of the Unites States with a volume for every state and Washington, DC. Fourteen years later, there are ten volumes, adding Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Virginia volume appears to be only a portion of the state, so there may ultimately be more than fifty-one volumes.

I purchased three volumes for our library back in 1996, thinking that we would build the set. Because our Iowa and Michigan books have never been borrowed, I have refrained from buying more. In our small library we do not have the readers to match with these books. The set, if ever completed, should be added to large city, college, and university libraries. Most public libraries should get their own state. This volume for Washington, DC may have more appeal than most other volumes.

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. Buildings of the District of Columbia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 0195061462

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