Tag Archives: Architecture

Let us be smart about this. (5 of 7)

4. buildings. the greatest danger will be their over-building themselves, by attempting a large house in the beginning, sufficient to contain the whole institution. large houses are always ugly, inconvenient, exposed to the accident of fire, and bad in cases of infection. a plain small house for the school & lodging of each professor is best. these connected by covered ways out of which the rooms of the students should open would be best. these may then be built only as they shall be wanted. in fact an University should not be an house but a village. this will much lessen their first expences.
Thomas Jefferson to Littleton W. Tazewell, January 5, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders occasionally upset conventional thinking.
Building were the last of four specific areas requiring the University Visitors’ attention. A student of architecture and frugal with public funds, Thomas Jefferson had specific, counter-cultural thoughts:
No Big Buildings! Do not house professors, students and classrooms in one big, ugly, expensive, disease-incubating building, where a fire would wipe out the entire university.

Jefferson proposed one “plain small house for the school” itself and separate buildings to house each professor and students. Covered walkways would protect all as they moved from building to building. More structures could be added as the school grew, lessening expenses on the front end.

He proposed an academical “village.” It would be 20 years before the University of Virginia opened, but you can see Jefferson’s vision today in the original grounds of UVa.

“Thank you for  very excellent presentation.”
Executive Director, Associated General Contractors of Missouri.
Mr. Jefferson will make an excellent presentation for your audience.
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WHAT was he thinking?

to cover with sheet iron in ridges & gutturs
let the ridges be 6. I. high & 5. times that in span=30 I.
then the slope will be 16.15 and adding 1.85 I. for the lap the sheets of iron must be 18. I. wide
consequently 18 I. of sheet clears only 15. I. horizontal, and if the sheets cost 18. D. the square, the cost of a horizontal square will be as 15 I.:18 I.::18 D.:21.6 D
(note the thickest tin is 18. D a box of 100. sheets 16¾ by 12¼=142. sq. feet the thin tin is 18 D a box of 225 sheets 14 I. by 10 I.=220. sq. feet.)
method of doing it.
place your joists 30. I. apart from center to center. let them be …
Notes and Drawings … Iron for Ridges and Gutters, 30 September 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Every leader needs some escape the pressures of work.
This excerpt, atypical for Jefferson Leadership Blog posts, is a different look inside the mind of Thomas Jefferson. It is a small segment of a lengthy list of measurements and directions for fabricating new iron ridges and gutters for the roof of his beloved home.

A leaky roof was a continual problem at Monticello. So was a convenient water source for a home located on top of a hill, distant from springs and rivers. Eventually, a new roofing and gutter system minimized both problems, effectively shedding the rain from the roof and collecting it in cisterns. These notes may have been been part of Monticello’s evolution from both leaky yet water-deprived to dry but water at hand.

Take a brief look at the full text, available through the link above. Like me, you will probably understand very little of it. Also like me, you might be impressed at the complexity and specificity of his mind.

“You … enthralled our general session …
And our members loved it all.”
Director of Member Services & Education, Minnesota Rural Electric Association
Your members will love Thomas Jefferson.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Ugly, expensive or inconvenient? Fugettaboutit!

The most approved plan of an [military] Hospital [in Boston is] of 4000. square feet area, two stories … the rooms for the sick to be well aired …
Th:J. proposes to mr Gallatin that some such advertisement as the above be published in Washington where there are many architects who will probably compete for the premium. in the erection of public buildings, taste, convenience & economy should all be respected.
To Albert Gallatin, June 21, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Public leaders should have strict standards for spending public money.
Congress had approved $15,000 for a hospital for ailing seamen in Massachusetts. President Jefferson wrote to his Secretary of the Treasury about soliciting architectural designs from architects in Washington and offered a $50 premium for the winning design.

Worth noting is his request that ” the rooms for the sick to be well aired.” He ascribed to a theory of healing that included fresh air as a necessary component, one not considered by most medical practioners of the day.

Jefferson noted three factors that “should all be respected” in the design of public buildings:
1. Taste – a strong and lasting visual appeal
2. Convenience – a design that facilitates the building’s intended use
3. Economy – remembering that public money was being spent

Gallatin did not issue the specifications as written by his boss. Neither did he solicit designs in Washington but only in Boston, where he said local residents would more appreciate a building designed by one of their own citizens.

“My franchisees thoroughly enjoyed your portrayal of Thomas Jefferson.
I especially was impressed how well you tied in our meeting topics into your speech.”
Franchise Owner, Mail Boxes, Etc.
Mr. Jefferson will tailor his remarks to complement the theme of your meeting.
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Toilets are more important!

I recieved your favor of the 16th. by the last post, whereby I observe you are engaged on the N. Western cornice of the house. I would much rather have the 2d. and 3d. air-closets finished before any thing else; because it will be very disagreeable working in them after even one of them begins to be in use. I shall be at Monticello within a fortnight from this time.
To James Oldham, April 24, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders, like everyone else, must consider life’s most basic needs!
James Oldham was a joiner, one skilled in making things from wood, employed at Monticello from 1801-04. Twenty five years after Jefferson started construction, his mansion was still a work-in-progress. Oldham reported he was working on an architectural molding (cornice). Jefferson responded that he wanted the additional toilets (air-closets) done first.

His plan included three interior toilets, a private one off his bedroom, already in existence, and two others accessible from the first and second floors. At the very least, the toilets had pots under the seat which a slave would have emptied daily. Waste may have gone to the basement level to be emptied from there. Some of Jefferson’s earlier plans included piping water from a higher elevation into the house for some type of flushing system, but there is no indication that function was completed. His air-closets included skylights for illumination and ventilation shafts to carry away odors. Most evidence of the toilets and their operation disappeared decades ago with Monticello’s early restoration and the addition of a heating and cooling system.

It appears all three toilets would use the same ventilation system. Since Jefferson was in Washington City, his toilet was not in use. Oldham would encounter no odor problems installing the others. Jefferson told his joiner he would be home in two weeks. In other words, get them done before I return, and working conditions will be much more favorable for you.

For more than you ever wanted to know about Monticello’s air-closets and privies, read this.

“Everyone, to a person, commented on how thorough you were
and how every detail that was possible to recreate was covered.”
President, Cole County Historical Society
Mr. Jefferson’s thoroughness and attention to detail will delight your audience!
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Form must yield to function, unfortunately.

I cannot express to you the regret I feel on the subject of renouncing the Halle au bled lights of the Capitol dome. that single circumstance was to constitute the distinguishing merit of the room, & would solely have made it the handsomest room in the world, without a single exception. take that away, it becomes a common thing exceeded by many …the only objection having any weight with me is the danger of leaking … but as you state that it cannot be secured against leaking & that is more than a countervail for any degree of beauty sacrificed to it…
To Benjamin Henry Latrobe, September 8, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders must sometimes sacrifice pleasure to practicality.
Latrobe (1764-1820) was a professionally trained architect, Supervisor of Public Buildings in Washington City, and oversaw the construction of the U.S. Capitol Building. Jefferson, an accomplished self-taught architect, regularly contributed designs or ideas for public buildings.

The Halle au Bled was a grain market in Paris, and Jefferson loved its design! The circular domed roof was supported by wooden ribs with glass in between. The effect was continually changing light in the building’s interior as the sun moved across the sky. He insisted on the same design for the roof of the House chamber in the Capitol, to make “it the handsomest room in the world.”

The Paris roof contained 800 panes of glass with 2,400 joints. Latrobe could not guarantee a Capitol roof that would not leak. Reluctantly, the President relinquished his 20 year dream of having an American building with such a magnificent covering. Still, in another example of delegating authority broadly, he left the final decision on the roof to Latrobe.

“The positive comments from our staff and members continued
long after the conclusion of Thomas Jefferson’s remarks.”
Executive Director, Maine Municipal Association
Mr. Jefferson’s wisdom will remain with your audience!
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The President’s recommendation open doors!

The bearer hereof, mr Mills, a native of South Carolina, has passed some years at this place as a Student in architecture. he is now setting out on a journey through the states to see what is worth seeing in that line in each state. he will visit Boston with the same view, and knowing your taste for the art, I take the liberty of recommending him to your notice, and of asking for him whatever information on the subject may be useful to his views while in Boston.
To Charles Bulfinch, July 2, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders nurture young talent.
Robert Mills (1781-1855) was almost 21 when Jefferson wrote this letter of introduction. Young Mills was already studying architecture and had helped build the President’s House in Washington City. Jefferson made his library available to Mills. Now, Mills was beginning an architectural tour of the states.

Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844) was a noted Boston architect. With very little university training available in America, the mentor-protege system was necessary to prepare young talented young men. By this letter, Jefferson introduced Mills to Bulfinch, asking the older man’s assistance in educating the architect-in-training.

Mills had a significant architectural career. Although modified considerably from his original rendering, Mills was the designer of the Washington Monument. That construction began in 1848, reaching a height of about 155’ by the time of Mills’ death. For several reasons, construction ceased and was not begun again for 20 years. Upon completion in 1884, it was the tallest building in the world, just over 555’.

Among the inscriptions on the nine-inch aluminum tip that caps the monument, facing the rising sun each day, are these words, “Laus Deo.” Translated from Latin, they read “Praise be to God.”

“Your talent and ability to tie the theme of our … Conference to his [Thomas Jefferson’s] presentation was amazing.”
North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association
Let Mr. Jefferson amaze your audience.
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