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Road Trip

An Architecture Buff's Tour of D.C.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

WHERE: Northwest Washington.

WHY: L'Enfant's legacy, architecture of biblical proportions and finding Mr. Wright.

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HOW FAR: About 11 miles.

Amazing what architects can do with swampland.

In 1791, George Washington handpicked Pierre L'Enfant to lay out a plan for the capital city, which was once marshy and muddy. The Frenchman was fired a year later for his stubborn ways, yet despite his pink slip, his blueprints stayed. Today, the numbered and lettered streets contain some design standouts but also occasional missteps L'Enfant never imagined: namely modernist, Gothic, Renaissance and Second Empire styles mixed in among the predominant neoclassical motif.

Some internationally recognized names have left their stamp on the city. I.M. Pei, Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and Philip Johnson brought their considerable reputations to the National Gallery of Art's East Wing, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library and the Kreeger Museum, respectively.

Outside the District, George Bergstrom designed the Pentagon (completed in 1943), one of the most identifiable geometry lessons in the world, and Eero Saarinen created the modernist masterpiece that is Dulles Airport's terminal building (opened in 1962). (The National Building Museum is holding a retrospective of Saarinen's works through Aug. 23.)

Meanwhile, for the everyman, we have Frank Lloyd Wright's Pope-Leighey House. The home near Mount Vernon was commissioned in 1939 by Loren Pope, a Washington Evening Star copy editor who made just $50 a week.

-- Johnna Rizzo


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