The Octagon House -Washington DC


Octagon House
Photo courtesy of the DC SHPO

The Octagon House, built between 1798 and 1800, was designed by Dr. William Thornton, the architect of the U.S. Capitol, and completed by 1800. Colonel John Tayloe, for whom the house was built, owned Mt. Airy plantation, located approximately 100 miles south of Washington in Richmond County, Virginia. Tayloe was reputed to be the richest Virginian plantation owner of his time, and built the house in Washington at the suggestion of George Washington. In 1814, Colonel Tayloe offered the use of his home to President and Mrs. Madison for a temporary “Executive Mansion” after the burning of the White House by the British. Madison, who used the circular room above the entrance as a study, signed the Treaty of Ghent there, which ended the War of 1812.

This three-story brick house, adapted to an irregular-shaped lot, displays a dramatic break with the traditional, late Georgian and early Federal house planning that preceded it. The Octagon achieves a zenith in Federal architecture in the United States, through its brilliant plan which combines a circle, two rectangles, and a triangle, and through the elegance and restraint of the interior and exterior decoration. The Coade stone, stoves, other decorative elements, and furniture were imported from England. The construction materials, such as bricks, timber, iron, and Acquia creek sandstone were all manufactured locally.

The Octagon House became the home of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) on January 1, 1899, and complete ownership of the property was acquired in the year 1902. Today, the American Architectural Foundation owns the Octagon House, and the AIA has moved its headquarters to a larger building located directly behind it. The house has undergone extensive renovation since 1996, culminating in efforts to restore it to its original period appearance.

The Octagon House is located at 18th St. and New York Ave. NW. Prearranged group tours are available by appointment. To arrange, phone 202/638-3221. Visit the American Architectural Foundation website for further information. Metro stop: Farragut West