The Architecture of Mount Vernon

The Architecture of Mount Vernon


(wind blowing) (drumming) – I’m Tom Reinhart, Deputy
Director for Architecture here at George Washington’s Mount Vernon and we’re standing here in front of the mansion on the east lawn. George Washington’s home is
really one of the most iconic and well recognized
buildings in the world, but in some ways it was a
rather atypical gentry home for 18th century Virginia. Whereas George Washington’s
peers in his class were building large brick homes, Washington chose to
build a large frame home built entirely of wood, except for the chimneys and foundation. The reason why he probably did this was that he inherited the
very core of Mount Vernon from his brother who
inherited it from his father and it was his father Augustine Washington who built the original center section of the house in 1735. Lawrence inherited that
house and expanded it and then when George
Washington inherited that house from his step-brother
Lawrence, he went ahead and increased the size of
the house in the 1750’s and then went on to build it
even larger in the 1770’s. So, it’s probably his desire to preserve the very core of his family’s dwelling that inspired him to keep it a frame house and not move into creating
a large brick house like his peers. As we mentioned earlier, Mount Vernon is actually made of wood, but Washington chose for it to have the appearance of stone
and he accomplished this by using a technique known as rustication. The wood and siding boards are cut to appear that they’re stone blocks. From a distance this is very convincing. Up-close he carried off
that illusion even further by using a technique
known as sand casting. While the paint on the
wooden boards are still wet, sand is thrown at it, it sticks to it, so that when you’re up-close, until you’re actually touching it, it really has the appearance that the house is made out of stone. This a technique he
was probably exposed to on a trip to New England
in the mid 1750’s, because when he comes back from that trip he enlarges Mount Vernon
for the first time and he uses this technique
of rustication on the house. We’re standing on the circle on the west side of the mansion. The mansion is executed
in the Georgian style of architecture, which was the prevalent architectural style of the
18th century in America. The Georgian’s architecture emphasizes symmetry on
the exterior of a building and when Washington did his design drawing for the last expansion
campaign that he undertook in the mid 1770’s, he drew a Mount Vernon that was completely symmetrical, but if you look over my shoulder you’ll see that we have anything but a symmetrical Mount Vernon. The front door is not in
alignment with the pediment, nor with the cupola, which is shifted several feet to the south. One of the reasons why,
in practice, Mount Vernon didn’t turn out to meet
Washington’s desire was that the location of
the stair necessitated the shift of the door to the north. But, Washington did value
symmetry to such a large extent that he went through the time
and the labor and expense to create two false windows
in the Northern Bay, which is where the new room is. The new room is a one and a
half story room on the interior fitted into a two story
section of the house. Those windows are actually
opened onto dead space between the third floor and
the ceiling of the new room, but they have working sash, with glass and they’re boarded up from the inside. So, this a real practical expression of a desire to hit all of the
characteristics which were key to the architectural style that Washington executed the mansion in. The fact that Mount Vernon
is a wood frame structure is not the only thing
that makes it unusual for a Virginia gentry house. The house incorporates several features that, in themselves, are
unusual or even unique and it’s important to remember that Washington didn’t hire an architect to design his house. He, himself was the architect. He worked directly with the builders and the craftsmen who executed it, he picked the designs, and he designed all of the iconic features of the house. The cupola off the center
of the roof of the house, the long piazza, which unifies
the east front of the house, and the pediment on the
west front of the house. These were all things
that Washington, himself, incorporated into his home. But, just as he was a man of vision, he was always a man of
practicality as well, so each of these features
serve a very practical purpose in the overall functioning of the house. The cupola serves as a ventilator. When the windows of the cupola were opened the hot air, which would rise up through the staircase of house, would exit and cooler
air would be pulled in through the lower windows
of the lower floors. The piazza, of course, gave shade to the east side of the house, but it also gave a great place
to enjoy the Pitoma Vista, which Washington loved so much. The pediment on the west
front serves as a dormer and creates a large storage
closet up on the third floor. As always, with everything Washington did, well thought out, very
practical, but also visionary. (wind blowing)
(drumming)

5 Comments

  • stflaw says:

    1:12 Laurence wasn't Washington's step-brother, he was his half-brother. Pretty glaring mistake for someone who works at Mt. Vernon. Now about that shirt . . .

  • Janine Harrison says:

    Lawrence was George Washington 's half brother not his step brother. Lawrence's wife rented Mt. Vernon to George after she remarried. Then her daughter died and George inherited Mt. Vernon.

  • janine harrison says:

    Lawrence was George's half brother, not step brother.

  • Xxx Campos says:

    He whip alot of slave in there

  • Danny Carrington says:

    Mount Vernon appears to be much more imposing in photographs and film than it actually is. In person you are aware that it isn't built on such a large scale and is humble farmhouse which has been expanded over the years.

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