American architecture can be said to have begun with the United States Capitol, conceived as early as 1791 and completed in 1865. Designed to serve a revolutionary new form of government, it was the first example of an entirely new building type. Furthermore, like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, the Capitol served as a tangible expression of the ideas of the founding fathers. The chambers necessary to the functions of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the new government determined the plan of the Capitol, and the two houses of the legislature established its symmetry and symbolized the balance of powers. Envisioned as the “first temple dedicated to the sovereignty of the People,” its central and uniting feature was a great domed rotunda originally styled “the Hall of the People.”
The drawings reproduced in this book of postcards provide clear evidence of the talent, imagination, and skill of the architects and draftsmen who participated in the creation of the Capitol--including Stephen Hallet (1755-1825), William Thornton (1759-1828), Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820), Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844), Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892), and Thomas Ustick Walter (1804-1877). Housed in the Center for Architecture, Design, and Engineering (established in 2002), the drawings constitute but an introduction to the wealth of documentation on the Capitol to be found in this and related collections in the world’s largest library.