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Rayburn House Office Building

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1962–1965, Harbeson, Hough, Livingston, and Larson. Independence Ave. between South Capitol St. and First St. SW
  • (Photograph by Karen Kingsley)
  • (Photograph by Karen Kingsley)
  • (Photograph by Karen Kingsley)

Perhaps Washington's most maligned public building, the Rayburn Building covers eight former Capitol Hill residential blocks with four massive rectangular office wings separated by courtyards that open to the east, south, and west. The difficulties of designing in a historical style whose time has past by those untrained or ill-trained in its basic principles is manifested most obviously in the Rayburn Building by the lack of a comprehensible human scale, the most fundamental legacy of the classical system of architecture. Although one can identify specific models employed by the architects—Piranesian cyclopean basement walls, sunken, vertically connected windows to re-create columnar rhythms in bays, a motif copied from its masterful use by Paul Philippe Cret at the Federal Reserve Board Building (see FB08, p. 210), massing of each block into three horizontal layers like those of the typical Beaux-Arts office building (see CH04)—the architects lacked the talent to make from them a new synthesis or a distinguished whole. The end result is a bombastic architectural expression of raw, arrogant, and uncontrolled power that dominates through sheer size rather than coexisting amicably with its neighbors or enhancing the art of architecture by contributing a viable new interpretation of its building type or architectural style.

Writing Credits

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee


What's Nearby


Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "Rayburn House Office Building", [Washington, District of Columbia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of the District of Columbia, Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 136-137.

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