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Problems Pierre L Enfant Encountered In Building Washington D.C.

1721 words - 7 pages

Problems Pierre LEnfant Encountered in Building Washington D.C.

Washington D.C., the capital of the United States of America, stands today as a monument to our country's unity and independence. "Its scheme of broad radiating avenues connecting significant focal points, its open spaces, and its grid pattern of streets" is credited to the genius of the French architect and engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant. However, the process of designing and building Washington was far from easy a task for L'Enfant and he was not given due credit for his design until years after his death. L'Enfant was born in Paris in 1754; he studied at the Royal Academy, and then left for America to fight in the Revolutionary War. He served in the Corps of Engineers under Baron Von Steuben during the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge. He was wounded in 1779, and was later captured by the British. In 1783 the Continental Congress awarded him the rank of Major. He remained in America after the war and gained a "reputation as an urban designer and architect."
The purpose of this paper is to examine the problems that Pierre L'Enfant encountered in designing and building Washington D.C. What delays did the project have and how might they have been avoided? Why was L'Enfant dismissed from his work in 1792?
L'Enfant wrote to Washington in September of 1789 before the site of the city was chosen formally requesting the job of designing the capital. Washington was familiar with L'Enfant, having seen his 1787 renovation of New York's city hall. He hired L'Enfant and later justified his decision saying, "He was better qualified than any one who had come within my knowledge in this country"
Thomas Jefferson was Secretary of State at this time, he had his own reservations as to how the capital city should be designed and was resolved to keep tight reign on L'Enfant's activities. Washington gave L'Enfant verbal instructions to go to Georgetown and assist in the completion of a map and survey of the plot of land reserved for the capital. This is where the problems began. L'Enfant commenced his survey of the area on March 11, 1791. He soon wrote a letter to Jefferson saying that he had begun the survey, but was plagued by a thick mist that had hung over the area. He also said that, having ridden over the entire area himself, it appeared to be a good location for the capital. Jefferson was upset by these revelations for Washington had planned a trip to the site on the 28th of March. Washington arrived on schedule, and was not pleased to find the survey and map incomplete. He made an attempt to observe the site himself, but was hampered by rain and stated that he had "derived no great satisfaction from the review."
L'Enfant wrote a letter of apology to Washington on April 4 asking for his opinion of the site, and for any further instructions that he may have. It was Jefferson, however, who replied to the letter. In it he stated "I am happy that the...

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