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Agriculture Department Building

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1903–1908, 1928–1930, Rankin, Kellogg and Crane. 14th St. and Jefferson Dr. SW
  • Department of Agriculture (© Franz Jantzen)
  • Agriculture Department Building (Richard W. Longstreth)
  • Agriculture Department Building (Franz Jantzen)

The Agriculture Department occupies the only building on the Mall that does not currently participate in the Mall's public life. Aggressive and imposing, it is the public facade for a massive and anonymous group of buildings containing 4,300 offices covering three blocks on the south side of Independence Avenue. The latter complex was designed by Supervising Architect Louis Simon and constructed between 1926 and 1936. But for budget cuts and bureaucratic interference, the main building by Rankin, Kellogg and Crane would have been a much better work of architecture than it is. The two L-shaped wings containing laboratories and offices were constructed between 1904 and 1908, but the boldly projecting central block was not finished until 1930. During both building campaigns, economy of construction, comprehensible interior planning, and advanced mechanical equipment were of greater importance than architectural merit. Each of the 256-foot-long wings, with pedimented Ionic porticoes enclosing thirteen unarticulated bays, is an adaptation of one of the most popular models for American office buildings in the early twentieth century, Jacques-Ange Gabriel's Gardes-Meubles (1755–1774) on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The rusticated basement story provides continuity to the 750-foot expanse of the entire front, a continuity lacking in the materials—granite for the base, white Vermont marble for the super-structure of the wings, and a gray marble for the later central section. Moreover, an additional story inserted into the center disrupts the window rhythm. The change from a garlanded Ionic in the wing porticoes to Corinthian in the center also contributes to the disjunction of the various parts.

Botany is the theme of the meager sculptural program, with the pedimental sculpture of the four wing porticoes, executed by Adolph A. Weinman in 1908, representing fruit, flowers, cereals, and forestry. An invented American order in the lobby and the vestibule leading to the secretary of agriculture's office features cornstalks and gives some architectural interest to the interior, as does a two-story, interior, skylit courtyard replacing the dome originally intended.

Writing Credits

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee


What's Nearby


Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "Agriculture Department 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, 99-100.

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