THE WHITE HOUSE AS A VILLA
The current paper looks at monographs and villas and concentrates on the design of the White House as a villa. The idea of villas in based on ancient Roman culture and traditions and specifically on the upper class country house in ancient Roman Empire. Since the origin of this ideology, the idea of villa and its function have considerably evolved over the years. After the Roman Republic fell, villa developed to become small farming compounds. These small farming compounds increasingly fortified later in the Late Antiquity. They were sometimes moved to the Church in order to be reused as a monastery. Through the middle ages, villas re-evolved once again into country homes for the upper class. Today villas are attributed to different types as well as sizes of residences, which range from suburban to urban constructions and residential building. The architecture and design of the White House are considered to have taken the idea of villas. The White House in Washington D.C. is both the official residence and the workplace of the US President. The house is located at Pennsylvania Avenue NW within the city of Washington D.C.
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Description of the Building
The White House was designed by James Hoban who is an Irish-born architect. It was built between the year 1792 and 1800. The main material used to construct it were Aquia Creek sandstones that were painted white. The design was mainly the neoclassical style. Neoclassical style is an architectural style that was produced by neoclassical movement mainly after the mid-eighteenth century. This style is principally derived from Classical Greece and Roman architecture. A clear term to describe the style here is the idea of villas, which has a strong historical root from Rome. The neoclassical architecture creates emphasis on the walls instead of chiaroscuro. The architectural design with this regard maintains distinctly separate identities to every other part within the same building. This idea is largely seen in the White House. The style here is manifested in its details to generate a reaction against the style of Rococo, which involve naturalist ornament. It has its architectural formulas as the outgrowth classicizing attributes of the Late Boroque. The White House uses the same technique, but it is considered a New Classical Architecture because it is a contemporary building structure and a mark for the United States of America. The initial structure does not exist today because the building was destroyed during the War of 1812, specifically in 1814.
Much of the design especially the interior design was charred and destroyed. This damage called for a reconstruction, which began immediately. First, the South Portico was first re-designed and constructed. It was completed in 1824 after which the North was started and later completed in 1829. Even after this renovation crowding within the building especially the executive mansion, which forced the president relocate to the West Wing, which had been constructed in 1901. The West Wing was later expanded about eight years later such that the first Oval Office was created. The attic on the third floor was converted into living quarters. This was done through the argumentation of the hip roof that existed. The East wing, which had been newly constructed was then used as the reception room for social events. An additional office space was created later by altering the East wing. The building design also included load-bearing exterior walls, which had to be replaced due to foreseen failure. The building as it is today includes sections Wing, and the formerly State Department, which was converted to become the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The building has a classic look of the ancient Roman architectural structures and homes that were meant for the upper class families. Today is part of the US national heritage sites owned solely by the country’s National Park Service. It is one of the most favorite architectural structures in the US.
Its actual dimensions and internal structures are impressive. The entire complex is made up of six stories. It has up to 55,000 square feet of floor space. The entire building structure is made up of 135 rooms, 35 bedrooms, and several free spaces in between rooms such as corridors and balconies among others. In total, it has about 412 doors, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, 147 windows, three elevators, and a tennis court. Many other structures and aspects within its interior make it elite.
The grounds surrounding the White House are part of the design, which together produce the beautiful look of the building from all angles. The grounds change more frequently than any amendments made on the building. It happens because of the fact that each US President alters them to suit his demands. The grounds’ current configuration is borrowed from the plan of Frederick Law, whose plan existed over 80 years ago. The original plan from which the current configuration is borrowed advocated for the preservation of the existing landscape. Some elements had to be removed to provide a better landscape management plan that is still used currently.
The grounds have a park-like setting that has a careful arrangement of orchestrated shade trees groups, which include under-planting as well as open spaces. This design makes the area have a residential site character. Still on the surroundings, the North Lawn is symbolic and serves the mansion’s ceremonial entry. The design of the garden has a predefined meaning like many ancient gardens. The Upper South Lawn extends to include the First Lady’s Garden to the east. To the west is Rose Garden. Other designs include the President’s Patio, a private swimming pool as well as other green grounds. The grounds surrounded by tall metallic fencing are closed completely to the public apart from during special occasions.
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Analysis of the Building Features
The White House has remained to be among the most recognizable structures in the US and specifically in Washington D.C. Its design was achieved through a competition meant to come up with the best house possible for the US president. The competitions were meant to determine the best architect who could design the two most important building of the US as a nation. These important buildings included the Capitol and the President’s House. An Anglo-Irish villa known as the Leinster House in Dublin had inspired the winner of the competition, who in this case was Hoban. The original structure of the building has changed significantly, but the classical look and villa-like structure remains. Given the Leinster House in Dublin, the building was given a Late Georgian style. It was structured so that it would have a giant portico that bisects the rectangular three-story building. The facades of the White House Building were organized in such a way that they depict a traditional palace that is Renaissance-derived in structure. In this case, the primary story was raised above the ground, an aspect that holds even today.
Like many classical villas, the White House building has tall windows that are surrounded by pediments. These windows mark the importance of the building. The initial aim was to build the mansion in “The Barrens” structure, which had been proposed due to its aspect of depicting a notable panoramic look of the Potomac River. The villa structure was found to be the best design due to various factors, which are based on speculations today. Nevertheless, it seems that ancient Roman architectural structures were a great influence to the design itself although the then existent Leinster House in Dublin generated a greater influence. The Leinster House in Dublin itself is based on the same classical architecture of ancient Rome.
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The White House villa design is attributed to the term villa as originally used in ancient Roman to refer to structural design of houses designated for the upper class individuals in the society. The building architect is comparable to many ancient buildings besides the Leinster House in Dublin. One of the ancient villas depicting similar structural appearance to those of the White House is the Villa Medici. This building is a patrician villa found in Italy, specifically in Fiesole, Tuscany. Having been built between the year 1451 and 1457, the Villa Medici is the fourth oldest villa constructed by the Medici family in Italy. The family built a series of villa with rural complexes within Tuscany. These villas had a classical look and served a number of functions. First, they were palaces for the Medici. This family built such structure as a symbol of power and wealth. Just like these villas, the White House can be considered a royal building in which the most powerful person in the US and probably in the world lives. It has a classical look, which has been maintained for maintaining this symbol of America’s power and the country’s cultural heritage. It may not necessary reflect the image of wealth because there are other more expensive structures in the US, but their purposes are completely different.
The classical elegance of the White House has been maintained across generations with only minor adjustments being initiated, but the classical architecture is only enhanced and strengthened in order to survive even a longer period in the future. This aspect is probably different from the case of other traditional villas, which were meant to survive a shorter time. On the contrary, the White House has been the official residence for every President of the United States, making it a cultural villa to be used by many other presidents of the same country in future.
The White House building is typically a new classical architectural building and more importantly, a villa. The building is fundamentally European since the design is based on a British design. Again, it was proposed by an Irish-born architect, an aspect that further reflects to the European villa structures. Reflecting back to the classical forms of architecture, the White House would greatly depict the structure of many European architectural buildings built during the early 18th century. The Rococo style is also reflected in the building. This style was largely used in classical villas, which means that the White House is a villa only that it has incorporated some modern architectural technologies making it stronger than any other villa in history.
The building may be seen to follow the British Palladian architectural style, but essentially the main idea is from ancient Romans. Palladian architecture entails a European architectural style that was derived from the designs of a Venetian architect known Andrea Palladio who lived between 1508 and 1580. The style in this case was based on principles of art such as symmetry, perspective, as well as values. These principles are rooted in the classical temple architectural design of Ancient Romans and Greeks. This means that the White House design was based primarily on architectural villa designs of ancient Romans and Greeks. Although the initial ideology was for the construction of temples, it was later transferred to private building as well as public structures like the White House.
Looking at most of the villa buildings and structures explained above, it would be meaningless to denounce the villa structure of the White House Building. The application of the classical villa design of architecture is vivid from the outside structural design. This aspect makes it a villa. Besides, the fact that it was designed during the eighteenth century makes it classical and puts it among the oldest buildings in good shape today. Most villa structures are old enough to be referred as cultural heritage structures. The same concept has been applied with the White House not only due to its long history but also due to its classical villa structure.
The White House is truly a villa without a doubt. It has many characteristics that make this argument hold. First, it is clear that the design takes after ancient architectural designs specifically from the ancient Rome in Italy. The British adopted the same concepts in the 19th century making the villa a popular idea in architectural design. The same ideology has been passed to the current generations, although it carries the title of New Classical Architecture. The Leinster House in Dublin was the inspiration for the White House design, but the original villa design was Italian in origin. Today, the building stands strong, and due to its ancient architectural design, it has become a National Heritage. Today, the group building that house the US Presidency is termed as the White House Complex. The White House Complex includes parts such as the central Executive Residence, which is flanked by other sections that include the East Wing as well as the West Wing. These features may not have been important in bringing the heritage aspect of the structure, but they are critical in accomplishing the building purpose. The exterior design is all what reflects its villa-like design. The designer concentrated on the outside to make it a real villa structure and bring the ancient look into reality. The interior is just like any other modern building elsewhere within the country. The tradition of the building has been managed from the outside in terms of its structural design and its surrounding. Above all, the White House serves the purpose served by most of the other ancient villas, especially those served as palaces. The building has remained to be the symbol of power for the US government since the country became independent.
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Ackerman, James S. The Villa: Form and Ideology of Country Houses. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.
Dal Lago, Adalbert. Villas and Palaces of Europe. Boston: Paul Hamlyn, 1969.
Skurman, Andrew. Contemporary Classical: The Architecture of Andrew Skurman. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2012.
Thacker, Christopher. The History of Gardens. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.
The Cultural Landscape Foundation. White House Grounds. Accessed May 13, 2014. http://tclf.org/landscapes/white-house-grounds.
The White House Museum. The White House Residence. Accessed May 14, 2014. http://www.whitehousemuseum.org/residence.htm.