In 2007, Washington National Cathedral held a year-long centennial celebration of its first stone being laid.  That first stone is named the Foundation Stone and it consists of a large slab of American granite with a smaller stone from Bethlehem, in the Holy Land, imbedded in its surface.  In addition to several inscriptions on its surface, the Foundation Stone provides structural support for the altar and reredos in Bethlehem Chapel, which in turn supports the Jerusalem Altar on the Cathedral’s main level.  In 1907, tens of thousands of people attended the service when the Foundation Stone was set, including President Theodore Roosevelt and other honored dignitaries.  However, today no one can see the Foundation Stone because it is encased within the surrounding foundation walls of the Cathedral’s subcrypt.


With such attention lavished on the Foundation Stone in 1907, it seems odd to make it inaccessible for future generations to appreciate.  Since the Cathedral planned to celebrate the centennial of the Stone’s creation, I thought it appropriate and necessary to research the Stone’s history, identify the people involved in its development, learn the reasons behind its design, the meaning of its symbolism and celebrated installation, and discover the explanation for its inaccessibility, so that others might find a deeper appreciation of its significance.               


My research took me to a number of primary sources: the Cathedral’s construction document archives, the diary of the Bishop of Washington at the time, The Foundation Stone Book that documents the installation services, an array of historic photos and other newspapers and periodicals from the early twentieth century.  Secondary sources included: Cathedral Age, a Cathedral-produced periodical with references to the Foundation Stone’s fiftieth anniversary, numerous books on the history of the Cathedral’s construction by various authors, and other Cathedral-related publications.

Based on the historical information gathered from these sources, I wrote a paper entitled, “The Foundation Stone: Creating Sacred Space at Washington National Cathedral,” and presented it at “Building Spiritual Washington," the Seventh Biennial Symposium of the Latrobe Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians in Washington, DC.  To support my text, I provided numerous illustrations in a PowerPoint presentation.  Following that event, I reshaped the text to become a chapter entitled, “Hidden Eternity: Marking A Sacred Space,” contained within Living Stones: Washington National Cathedral at 100, a book published by the Cathedral during the centennial year.  I further condensed the paper into training materials for docents to use with visitors coming to the Cathedral during the year. Throughout the course of the centennial year, I shared my historical research and PowerPoint presentation to numerous gatherings of special tour groups, Governance and visiting dignitaries.  Finally, the Cathedral made a video of me explaining the history of the Foundation Stone and offering its story as a meditation to viewers on the Cathedral’s website.

The Foundation Stone, a seemingly simple, yet incredibly symbolic element in the life of Cathedral, provides insights on the religious beliefs and practices of the early builders of the National Cathedral.  The variable forms of sharing this historic information helped many people in the present day better understand their forebears of more than a hundred years ago.

[Read the rest of this article...]



The Department of Commerce BuildingFrom 1992 to 1994, while serving as the Principal Historical Architect for Frazier Associates, we served as a historic architectural consultant for the General Services Administration (GSA) on selected historic federal building projects in the National Capital Region of Washington, DC.  The buildings included the International Trade Commission Building, former Navy Medical School Buildings, Department of Commerce Building, Department of Education Building, Federal Courthouse, Tax Court, Veteran’s Administration Building, and the Winder Building.  My responsibilities involved conducting in-depth historical research to determine the construction history of each building; submitting recommendations to GSA’s Historic Preservation Officer describing possible courses of action with historic building problems; providing analysis of original materials such as paint and mortar; preparing construction drawings and specifications for specialized restoration and conservation work; and reviewing the specialized construction in the field.

In this role, I was a member of large project teams of professionals consisting of architects, engineers, interior designers, fire protection specialists, and representatives from the respective federal departments and agencies housed in each building.  With each project, a new team was assembled, who often had not worked together previously.  For these projects to be successful, I approached them with a spirit of coordination and cooperation, and cultivated the same attitude within the project team.

One project, involving the Department of Commerce building, called for the installation of new fire barrier walls at strategic locations along the primary corridors of the one-time largest, horizontally-continuous building in the world.  The fire marshal for the project initially insisted the fire barrier walls had to be of solid construction with solid doors kept in a closed position.  While the project team agreed that improving fire safety for the building occupants was necessary, such a design solution would dramatically compromise the integrity of the building’s historic interiors and seriously impede a successful conclusion to the project.

However after extensive research, I located a manufacturer of fire-rated, glass door assemblies that provided the necessary degree of fire separation required for this project, and also offered a minimalistic design that was compatible with the historic interiors.  In addition, due to the proposed fire barrier’s innovative design, the fire marshal was agreeable to the notion that the new doors could be held in an open position by electro-magnetic locks, until such a time when an activated fire alarm would release the locks and the doors would close automatically.


A second project involved the exterior rehabilitation of the Veteran’s Administration Building.  Since the building’s construction in the early twentieth-century, the original glass-roof canopies over the primary entrances were altered dramatically from their original design and, in some instances, replaced entirely, due in large part to their failure to shed water properly.  A critical component of this project was the expectation that new canopies would be created to replicate the original design, but eliminate the earlier flaws.  In addition, each exterior entrance must be made accessible to the disabled, a design challenge made difficult by the extreme change in elevation from sidewalk level to the entrance floor level and the minimal amount of frontage area in which to accommodate a ramp.


In close collaboration with the project architect, the structural engineer, and the landscape architect, I developed new glass entrance canopies that are very similar in appearance to the original designs, yet allow water to drain from the exposed surfaces properly.  In addition, new ramps were designed and constructed that provide accessibility to the disabled and are sympathetic in appearance to the historic building.


These two examples illustrate the ongoing need to incorporate contemporary building requirements into the fabric of historic buildings—a task that too often results in a clash of sensibilities and an ugly design solution that compromises the value of the historic building.  However, with clear communication, creative design and a shared desire to produce an excellent product, I was able to assist the project teams in building consensus and achieving successful results.

[Read the rest of this article...]

Page 4 of 4First   Previous   1  2  3  [4]  Next   Last