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Cosmos Club

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Richard H. Townsend House
1901, Carrère and Hastings. 2121 Massachusetts Ave. NW
  • Cosmos Club (Richard H. Townsend House) (Library of Congress)
  • (Damie Stillman)
  • (Damie Stillman)

Carrère and Hastings's remodeling of the Second Empire Curtis J. Hillyer house into the Townsend residence (whose center block incorporated the mass of the original building) is an excellent example of the French academic strategy of using dominant and subordinate parts as compositional and expressive devices. Gradation of massing, window openings, and architectural ornamentation resulted in a particularly coherent and beautiful facade. Each of the building's five parts—central block, wings, and garden walls—is of equal width but unequal height, thus establishing primary, secondary, and tertiary zones. This diminution of mass from the center outward is accompanied by a concurrent movement from an open center to closed edges. Large windows fill each of the three bays in the central block while only the central bay of the wings is punctured; the garden walls are solid, broken only by minor articulation of their surfaces.

Intersection of the two main volumes, one oriented vertically and one horizontally, is further emphasized by their distinctly different surface treatments. In the center the walls are completely subordinated to the architectural framing elements, five giant Corinthian pilasters and elaborate window frames and entablatures. In contrast, the cubic solidity of the wings, literally reinforced by corner quoins and a parapet, is broken by shallow layering of the rectilinear details, imposing balus-traded balconies and luxuriant masks and swags. All these volumetric and surface tensions are masterfully resolved by the balance of the masses, the same treatment of the rusticated basement, and the elegant and academically correct use of the entire range of the refined Louis XVI decorative vocabulary. The interplay between thin slices of moldings or panels and the exuberantly three-dimensional sculptural decoration, crisp sculptural details that pop out of the smooth limestone walls, attest to the sophistication of the talents of Carrère and Hastings.

Writing Credits

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee



  • 1901


What's Nearby


Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "Cosmos Club", [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, 331-332.

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