You are here

Phillips Collection

-A A +A
Duncan Phillips House
1897; 1907 addition, Hornblower and Marshall; 1989 renovation, Arthur Cotton Moore. 1612 21st St. NW
  • Phillips Collection (Duncan Phillips House) (Robert C. Lautman)

The Phillips Collection has grown from two exhibition rooms in the Duncan Phillips home in 1921, when it opened as the first museum of modern art in America, to two buildings in which the domestic scale and ambiance of the original house have been maintained. Hornblower and Marshall's 1897 reinterpretation of early American architecture drew upon elements from both the eighteenth-century Georgian vocabulary (a modillion cornice and flat arches over the windows) and the Federal style that followed it (ovoid and semicircular bays and Adamesque decorative details).

Contrary to both of these traditions, the main facade composition is asymmetrical, with a tall projecting chimney breast bisecting the two bays to the south of the entrance, balanced by a wide Palladian window occupying the northernmost first-story bay. Shallow relief ornament carved in sandstone was used liberally on the bay entablatures, sandstone attic story, and particularly notably, on the shell motif in the lunette of the Palladian window. Moreover, the architects set the brick building upon a high basement of rock-faced sandstone, an element familiar from the Richardsonian Romanesque style. Both eclectic mixtures of styles and free compositions were design strategies inherited from the Victorian era. When classicism returned as the primary inspiration, such mixtures were frequently more synthetic than during the Victorian era, as the historical styles chosen shared design principles and architectural vocabularies derived from a common source. As in the Phillips house, the resulting forms are subdued, but, paradoxically, surface ornament is often as rich or richer than in the Victorian eclectic styles. Hornblower and Marshall were particularly adept at combining English and American Georgian and Adamesque motifs and manipulating them to create a new Colonial Revival style.

The historical precedent for the library wing added to the north in 1907 by Hornblower and Marshall is the Italian Renaissance. It is expressed on the exterior by bracketed window frames and a large square bay window with heraldic devices carved in stone below and in stained glass among the leaded panes. On the interior, oak-paneled walls, a coffered ceiling, and a monumental, carved oak and limestone fireplace, set behind a Scamozzi style Ionic columnar screen, provide a more vigorous and evocative setting than the subdued and refined Federal-style interiors of the 1897 house. In 1920 McKim, Mead and White added a skylit second story to the library wing to prepare it for use as a public exhibition area. Three years later a mansarded top story was added to the original house by Washington architect Frederick H. Brooke for private family use.

In 1989, when Arthur Cotton Moore renovated Wyeth and King's 1960 addition, the Goh Annex, he responded to the building as a whole, deriving his massing and horizontal lines from the 1897 house and his architectural vocabulary from the later Renaissance-inspired addition. The bird logo over the entrance to the Goh Annex was inspired by a Braque painting. Moore's annex is divided into four levels, with the principal story raised high above a modern rusticated basement, an apsidal entry treated in antis, bracketed rectangular windows on the main story, and square windows in the attic. All of these elements are associated with the Italian Renaissance tradition in architecture, particularly as it was filtered through English Georgian buildings. Both sections of the earlier building are astylar; Moore introduced embryonic pilasters on the facade of the Goh Annex. His major contribution to the interior is the flying oval staircase that spirals up through three stories. Its heritage in terms of location, form, and details is generically Renaissance.

Writing Credits

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee



  • 1897

  • 1907

  • 1989


What's Nearby


Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "Phillips Collection", [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, 329-330.

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.