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State Department

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1941, Gilbert Stanley Underwood and William Dewey Foster; 1958 expansion, Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White, with A. R. Clas, associate architect. 23 and C sts. NW.

Construction of the Harry S. Truman Federal Building took place as part of the National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s effort to redevelop Foggy Bottom and provide additional office space to the rapidly expanding War Department. Architects Gilbert Stanley Underwood and William Dewey Foster won the contract for the new structure. Yet while the War Department embraced the Pentagon building, it never fully occupied its Foggy Bottom addition; in the late 1940s, the Department of State occupied the structure.

The 1941 block, clad in rough limestone and enlivened by polished granite in the spandrels between the metal casement windows, exhibits classical massing and proportions but expresses its function as a modern office building. Most obvious classical features include the emphasis on a base-shaft-capital system: the interior courtyard walls, for example, are clad in dark granite, emphasizing the transition from base to shaft. A large portico of four stark piers rising four stories above a two-story base marks the entrance on 21st Street. Six-story wings flank the entrance pavilion. Simple casement windows on the first and second stories are placed on the same plane as the walls. On the wings, the windows from the third to the sixth stories are recessed, offering interplay of light and shadow. Interest in the recessed windows is further heightened by the extension of each casement's center pane from the window line for a three-dimensional effect, and by the dark pink polished granite in the spandrels between floors. The original design called for sculptural groups to accent the main elevation, but the only portions that were executed are five square medallions in the frieze. Much like other federal offices constructed during the 1930s, the Truman Building features a mural by Kindred McLeary, The Defense of Human Freedoms, which depicts the five freedoms planked at either end of the mural by the American military.

In the mid-1950s, the State Department hired Harley, Probst Associates to design an extension to the complex, expanding to the west and south, with entrances on C, 23rd, and E streets. This smooth-limestone-sheathed building is constructed in the modern style of the 1950s, using reinforced concrete and buff-colored limestone cladding to relate to the original structure; it is also evenly punctuated with two-pane casement windows. Diplomatic reception rooms were installed on the eighth floor during the 1980s as reproductions of early American architecture and were furnished with eighteen-century antique furnishing and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artwork.

Since the building takes up the entire city block, there is not much in the shape of landscape. The south courtyard, however, features a sculpture by Marshall M. Fredericks, The Expanding University, which includes a circular fountain and an architectural bronze statue.

References

“Harry S. Truman Federal Building, Washington, DC.” U.S. General Services Administration. Accessed May 10, 2020. https://www.gsa.gov/.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee
Updated By: 
Vyta Baselice (2020)
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Data

Timeline

  • 1941

    Built
  • 1958

    Expanded

What's Nearby

Citation

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "State Department", [Washington, District of Columbia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/DC-01-FB12.

Print Source

Buildings of the District of Columbia, Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 212-212.

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