Congress As Architecture Critic

On the morning of Monday September 5th, 1774 fifty-five individuals formed the very first meeting of the Continental Congress. They began their revolutionary work not as politicians but as architecture critics. Before politics there is architecture.

"The members met at the City Tavern [in Philadelphia] at ten o'clock and walked to the Carpenter's Hall, where they took a view of the room and of the chamber... The general cry was, That this was a good room, and the question was put, whether we were satisfied with this room? and it was passed affirmative." John Adams as quoted in The Nine Capitals of the United States by Robert Fortenbaugh.

Over the next 26 years the capital would be moved 14 times, conducting official meetings in places as diverse as taverns and private homes to court houses and other state buildings before settling into its official home on the Potomac in 1800. The result of a contentious public competition, the capitol building that the 6th Congress moved into would be a partially completed, noisy, brick and limestone affair in the middle of a backwater city. Over the next 167 years the capitol was a live entity undergoing numerous changes as spaces were adapted and expand to meet contemporary needs until the AIA itself suggested that no further changes be made for fear of ruining a historical treasure. With the capitol building now frozen in AIA carbonite, 1967 would mark the end of Congress' critical engagement with architecture- a hobby of necessity that began in 1774 with a simple evaluation: This is a good room. That the story of congressional architecture ends just as a new wave of political questions began washing over society hints to us that a disconnect between the political and cultural lives of our nation is a dangerous gap to foster.