The Octagon Museum

The Octagon Museum As the museum of the Architects Foundation, we educate on the value architects and architecture bring to culture. Temporary White House (1814 -15), AIA HQ (1898-1970), and one of the US's first preservation projects.
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Completed in 1801 for John Tayloe III of Mount Airy, VA and his wife Ann Ogle Tayloe, and designed by William Thornton, the original architect of the U.S. Capitol, the Octagon is one of the most significant and elegant buildings to remain standing from the early federal city. The Octagon served as the temporary White House for the Madisons after the British burned Washington in 1814 during the War of 1812. After the Tayloe family moved out in 1855, the house served as a girls' school, the offices of the US Hydrographic Office, an a tenement apartment building. Finally, in 1898, the American Institute of Architects selected the building to be their national headquarters, and they continued to use the building as such until 1970. Today, the Octagon is operated as a museum by the AIA Foundation, and features guided and self-guided tours, changing exhibitions, and public programing.

Temporarily closed

Remember to join us TONIGHT at 8pm on Instagram Live!Join us + Mortarr for a haunted happy hour. Grab your cocktail and ...
10/27/2020

Remember to join us TONIGHT at 8pm on Instagram Live!

Join us + Mortarr for a haunted happy hour. Grab your cocktail and dim the lights for a lively conversation between Mortarr’s Jen Levisen + The Architects Foundation’s Marci Reed.

Instagram.com/octagonmuseum

Cultural Tourism DC
10/26/2020

Cultural Tourism DC

Tour some spirited spaces in The Octagon with Mortarr on Tuesday, October 27th, at 8PM LIVE on Instagram. Follow The Octagon Museum, grab a drink and dim the lights for a conversation between ghostbusters Mortarr's Jen Levisen, + Architects Foundation’s Marci Reed! 👻🎃

We're touring some spirited spaces in The Octagon with Mortarr next Tuesday, October 27th, at 8PM ET LIVE on Instagram. ...
10/22/2020

We're touring some spirited spaces in The Octagon with Mortarr next Tuesday, October 27th, at 8PM ET LIVE on Instagram. Follow us at @octagonmuseum, grab your cocktail and dim the lights for a lively conversation between our favorite ghostbusters, Mortarr's Jen Levisen, + Architects Foundation’s Marci Reed!
#curatedxmortarr
Photography by: AJJN Photography

#Repost @mortarr with @make_repost.

In DC? Make sure to visit this powerful pavilion, sponsored by the Architects Foundation and SmithGroup. Society's Cage ...
09/02/2020
"Society's Cage" Explores Institutional Racism in America

In DC? Make sure to visit this powerful pavilion, sponsored by the Architects Foundation and SmithGroup. Society's Cage is now open on the National Mall at 12th/Madison through September 12.

https://www.architectmagazine.com/design/societys-cage-explores-institutional-racism-in-america_o

Conceived by a team from SmithGroup's D.C. office, this temporary steel pavilion on the National Mall is a “beautiful rendition of the ugliness of racism.”

A wonderful panel tonight on Fay Jones and the Crosby Arboretum with Mississippi State University's Hans Herrmann, AIA, ...
08/27/2020

A wonderful panel tonight on Fay Jones and the Crosby Arboretum with Mississippi State University's Hans Herrmann, AIA, The American Institute of Architects' Robert Ivy, FAIA, and USModernist's George Smart. Thanks to all who attended!

The Unbuilt Crosby Arboretum exhibit has a special place in our hearts, because it was installed just before the shutdown in March. Tour virtually via https://architectsfoundation.org/what-we-do/programs-exhibits/

August 24 marks the solemn anniversary of the Burning of Washington in 1814. While the city was evacuating, as an extra ...
08/24/2020

August 24 marks the solemn anniversary of the Burning of Washington in 1814. While the city was evacuating, as an extra level of security Mrs. Tayloe asked the French ambassador to stay at The Octagon to watch the house for her. Knowing the building was safe from the British, Dolley Madison sent several of her things to The Octagon for safekeeping. Ultimately, the Madisons moved in, turning The Octagon into a temporary White House through the end of the War of 1812. And on John Tayloe's office desk, pictured below, James Madison signed the Treaty of Ghent!

While we're still closed, please go and visit the pavilion sponsored by SmithGroup and the Architects Foundation! This i...
08/21/2020
Support Society’s Cage – an experiential installation highlighting the historic forces of racialized state violence

While we're still closed, please go and visit the pavilion sponsored by SmithGroup and the Architects Foundation! This installation will be up on the National Mall August 28-September 4. Details and fundraising link below:

Conceived and designed by a team of Black architects at SmithGroup , Society’s Cage is a timely interpretive installation born in the aftermath of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor murders as our society reckons with institutional racism and...

Looking for an at-home activity this weekend? Download our "Octivity" drawing pages: https://architectsfoundation.org/wp...
08/21/2020

Looking for an at-home activity this weekend? Download our "Octivity" drawing pages:https://architectsfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/AF20_343400_Octivity_at_home_series_11x8-5_Final2-07-20-20.pdf

Mortarr
08/17/2020

Mortarr

Go behind the screens with The Forum and The Octagon this Wednesday at 3pm CST. Mortarr's Communications Director, Jennifer Levisen, and the Architects Foundation's Marci Reed are diving into the history of The Octagon and highlighting the role The American Institute of Architects's first national headquarters plays in the their social and civic contributions to the world. Register now: https://ecs.page.link/oB3HF

JOIN US August 27th for a virtual discussion, “The Unbuilt Crosby Arboreturm and the Legacy of E. Fay Jones,” featuring ...
08/06/2020
The Unbuilt Crosby Arboretum

JOIN US August 27th for a virtual discussion, “The Unbuilt Crosby Arboreturm and the Legacy of E. Fay Jones,” featuring Mississippi State University Hans Herrmann, AIA; The American Institute of Architects Robert Ivy, FAIA; and USModernist George Smart.

Register here: https://architectsfoundation.networkforgood.com/events/22320-the-unbuilt-crosby-arboretum

This virtual discussion will explore the work by Hans Herrmann, AIA and students to create physical and virtual reality models of four unrealized E. Fay Jones buildings at the Crosby Arboretum, buildings intended to accompany the iconic Pinecote Pavilion completed in 1985. These models have been on view at The Octagon, which is still closed due to COVID-19.

The Unbuilt Crosby Arboretum is the only known E. Fay Jones multi-building composition/campus. Robert Ivy, FAIA, AIA CEO and biographer on E. Fay Jones, will highlight how Jones’ work is deeply rooted to place and nature. Jones received the AIA Gold Medal in 1990, the Institute’s highest honor.
Tickets to the panel are free; $15 tickets will permit additional entry into a giveaway for various prizes!
Photo credit Tim Hursley.

Panel discussion with Hans Herrmann, AIA, Robert Ivy, FAIA and George Smart

Mortarr
07/30/2020

Mortarr

Relish in the relic. The Octagon has more stories than sides, and we're highlighting their past, present, and future this week on The Forum. See more on the Architects Foundation here: https://bit.ly/2ParlPS

The Octagon serves as a venue for exhibits and events that educate and inspire the public on the value architects and ar...
05/31/2020

The Octagon serves as a venue for exhibits and events that educate and inspire the public on the value architects and architecture bring to culture and community. Help support us in our mission by making a tax-deductible donation here: https://buff.ly/2XOaq9l

Our current exhibit “The Unbuilt Crosby Arboretum: An Unrealized Masterplan by E. Fay Jones and Edward Blake Jr.” was on...
05/29/2020

Our current exhibit “The Unbuilt Crosby Arboretum: An Unrealized Masterplan by E. Fay Jones and Edward Blake Jr.” was on display in the Mississippi State University School of Architecture Giles Hall Gallery last year. While you can’t get into the Octagon to see the exhibit right now, you can get a preview of the exhibit here: https://buff.ly/2xyRNh0

Did you know The Octagon is made of four hundred thousand bricks! We know the number of bricks because of the carefully ...
05/27/2020

Did you know The Octagon is made of four hundred thousand bricks! We know the number of bricks because of the carefully preserved billing records kept by the contractor.

Why are so many homes in the Washington area made of brick? If you live somewhere in the Piedmont region of the Middle Atlantic states and you garden, you know that the primary ingredient of the local soil is clay. Readily available, cheap to make, easy to transport, strong, capable of being molded into various size and shapes, and fireproof, brick was the choice not only for this architect, but for those who built up and down the East Coast – and not just for houses, but for walls, sidewalks, and commercial buildings. The Octagon’s bricks may have been made at the nearby brickyard on Lafayette Square, the site which produced 5000 bricks a day for the President’s House, completed in 1800. #octagonmuseumdc #morestoriesthansides #preservationmonth

One of the highlights of our back garden are our Treaty of Ghent Roses. The roses commemorate the signing of the Treaty ...
05/25/2020

One of the highlights of our back garden are our Treaty of Ghent Roses. The roses commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812. The Treaty of Ghent was signed at the Octagon by President James Madison on February 17, 1815. These roses were gifted to us by the Belgian Royal Society for Agriculture and Botany in the summer of 2014 for the bicentennial commemoration of the negotiation and signing of the Treaty of Ghent. They are specially bred to resemble the Peace Treaty Roses that the signers of the Treaty of Ghent received in 1814. #octagonmuseumdc #morestoriesthansides

Families with the wealth and social standing of the Tayloes entertained frequently and lavishly.  Food for multi-course ...
05/23/2020

Families with the wealth and social standing of the Tayloes entertained frequently and lavishly. Food for multi-course dinner parties and elegant refreshments for balls and tea parties were made in the Tayloe kitchen. In addition to preparing for such elaborate entertainments, the enslaved cook and kitchen help were responsible on a daily basis for turning out meals for the many members of the Tayloe family, as well as their friends and business associates invited informally to dine or drink tea. There was also a large household staff to be fed. Whenever the Tayloe family was in residence, the Octagon kitchen was the scene of bustling, non-stop activity. #octagonmuseumdc #morestoriesthansides #preservationmonth

TBT to the 1870s! This photograph was taken while The Octagon was being used as the U.S. Hydrographic Office. You can se...
05/21/2020

TBT to the 1870s! This photograph was taken while The Octagon was being used as the U.S. Hydrographic Office. You can see the exterior shutters that had been added in the mid-1800s! The shutters were removed by the AIA during on of our restorations, but some of the hardware from them is still visible on the outside of the house today. #octagonmuseumdc #morestoriesthansides #preservationmonth

Happy Birthday to both Dr. William Thornton and Dolley Madison today! Thornton was born on this day in 1759 in the Briti...
05/20/2020

Happy Birthday to both Dr. William Thornton and Dolley Madison today! Thornton was born on this day in 1759 in the British Virgin Islands, and Dolley was born on this day in 1768 in Guilford County, North Carolina. Who would have guessed their paths would cross in so many ways during their lifetimes, not just through the Octagon!

The basement of the house is a great space to look at some of the construction details of the space. This area of the Se...
05/19/2020

The basement of the house is a great space to look at some of the construction details of the space. This area of the Servants Hall has been restored in stages to show off how wood lath and plaster were used in the early 1800s to fully coat the walls and ceilings of the house. First, strips of wood lath are nailed to the floor joists. When the first layer is installed, plaster is pushed up through the spaces between the lath. This creates a “key” that locks the plaster against the surface. The first layer is then incised with lines to adhere the second layer. The third layer is the thinnest coat and finishes the surface of the ceiling. In the 18th and 19th centuries, ceilings were often left unpainted and only whitewashed when they became dirty.
#octagonmuseumdc #morestoriesthansides #preservationmonth

In this challenging time, we seek shelter, health, inspiration and education. Show your support of The Octagon with a do...
05/17/2020
Make an impact with the Architects Foundation

In this challenging time, we seek shelter, health, inspiration and education. Show your support of The Octagon with a donation today. Funds raised will help us continue to operate as a museum, using this inspirational space to connect our community, and our nation's future and legacy.

Support our scholars and museum programs We believe architects use the power of design to make a positive impact by solving problems, transforming lives and creating a better world. We also believe the architectural profession needs to respectfully and inclusively reflect the diverse soc...

The presence of a vaulted storage area is evidence that this was the Octagon’s wine cellar.  Families like the Tayloes, ...
05/15/2020

The presence of a vaulted storage area is evidence that this was the Octagon’s wine cellar. Families like the Tayloes, who entertained frequently, placed great importance on being able to serve a wide variety of fine wines and liquors. Alcoholic beverages consumed by the Tayloes and their contemporaries included wine, champagne, French and fruit brandies, claret, rum, whiskey, and gin as well as ales and beers. #octagonmuseumdc #morestoriesthansides

The chair rail in the Drawing Room is an example of composition work.  A less expensive decorative material than plaster...
05/13/2020

The chair rail in the Drawing Room is an example of composition work. A less expensive decorative material than plaster, it was made from linseed oil, “hyde” glue, and whiting (a “chalk” substance). The composition work that remains at the Octagon is of unusual crispness and clarity. Other examples of composition work in the house include the mantle pieces in the drawing and dining rooms, the pilasters of the front entry hall side of the front door, and the arched doorway connecting the entry hall with the stair hall. #octagonmuseumdc #morestoriesthansides

05/11/2020
History Quest DC

We’ve been having fun playing with this “History Quest DC” map lately! Not unlike the map in our entry hall, this allows you to see the development of the city from 1791 to the present. This interactive GIS map provides historical data on approximately 129,305 extant buildings in Washington, D.C. Can you spot The Octagon on the map?

Historical Data on the Buildings of Washingon D.C. collected over the past 15 years for the DC Historic Presevation Office

Above the fireplace in the Treaty Room is a portrait of John Tayloe IV, the first born of John III and Anne.  He was a m...
05/09/2020

Above the fireplace in the Treaty Room is a portrait of John Tayloe IV, the first born of John III and Anne. He was a midshipman on the USS Constitution, nicknamed Old Ironsides, and was wounded in its historic battle with the British frigate Guerriere during the War of 1812. John IV died in 1824 of his wounds at Mount Airy, the Tayloe’s Virginia plantation. #octagonmuseumdc #morestoriesthansides

TBT this time to 1910! This image, courtesy of the Library of Congress, shows The Octagon’s back garden around 1910. The...
05/07/2020

TBT this time to 1910! This image, courtesy of the Library of Congress, shows The Octagon’s back garden around 1910. The original stable is visible behind the fencing, and the garden gate leading out to 18th Street can be seen open on the left! The ice house, which is still in our courtyard today, is covered in vines and ivy towards the center. #octagonmuseumdc #morestoriesthansides

Did you know: Thornton designed several versions of The Octagon before the final floorplan was determined. This image sh...
05/05/2020

Did you know: Thornton designed several versions of The Octagon before the final floorplan was determined. This image shows his second floorplan, which was never built. The main outline is very similar though, and it’s easy to see how the final version evolved from this one! #octagonmuseumdc #morestoriesthansides

In November 2018 we hosted the US Capitol Historical Society and the University of Aberdeen for a day-long symposium on ...
05/03/2020
First Architect of the Capitol William Thornton Symposium

In November 2018 we hosted the US Capitol Historical Society and the University of Aberdeen for a day-long symposium on the life and career of Dr. William Thornton, first Architect of the Capitol, and architect of the Octagon. CSPAN filmed the symposium, and you can watch the full series of four lectures here:

The U.S. Capitol Historical Society hosts a symposium on the life and times of William Thornton, the first Architect of the Capitol.

Support The Octagon during our COVID-19 closure! Show your support of The Octagon with a donation today. Funds raised wi...
05/01/2020

Support The Octagon during our COVID-19 closure!
Show your support of The Octagon with a donation today. Funds raised will help us address critical building needs during our closure, enhancing this inspirational space to connect our community, and our nation's future and legacy. Donate here: https://buff.ly/2XOaq9l

The matching stoves in the entry hall of the house served both a practical and decorative purpose. They would have been ...
04/29/2020

The matching stoves in the entry hall of the house served both a practical and decorative purpose. They would have been ordered out of a catalog by the Tayloe’s specifically to be placed in this space. The coal-burning stoves would have kept the entry hall warm for visitors to the house in the winter, and the decorative urns on top helped to disperse the heat throughout the space! There is one on either side of the doors leading into the house, maintaining the all-important symmetry of the space. #octagonmuseum #morestoriesthansides

AIA Secretary Glenn Brown created a series of measured drawings of The Octagon in 1914, which later served as early HABS...
04/27/2020

AIA Secretary Glenn Brown created a series of measured drawings of The Octagon in 1914, which later served as early HABS drawings of the space. Until 2004 these were the primary standardized drawings of the house. You can see some of the intricate plaster details recorded by Brown here!

From the beginning, the Octagon was considered one of the city’s finest residences and hosted many luminaries of social ...
04/25/2020

From the beginning, the Octagon was considered one of the city’s finest residences and hosted many luminaries of social and political Washington, including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Andrew Jackson, and the Marquis de Lafayette.

In the early 1800s, the majority of people lived in structures with only two to four rooms; rooms were multi-purpose. For only the wealthiest people, dining rooms became independent rooms in houses and were used only for the serving of food. Matched sets of dishes became fashionable for the first time and table manners were some of the most important distinctions in determining gentility. #OctagonMuseumDC #MoreStoriesThanSides

TBT to the 70s! One of our AIA staff members recently sent us this fantastic photo, taken by Cynthia Reed during a visit...
04/23/2020

TBT to the 70s! One of our AIA staff members recently sent us this fantastic photo, taken by Cynthia Reed during a visit to the Octagon in 1971.

Do you have a photo of the house that you’d like to share? Send it to us (or tag us in it), we’d love to see them!

Address

1799 New York Ave NW
Washington D.C., DC
20006

General information

The Octagon is open for free self-guided tours Thursday through Saturday, 1:00 - 4:00 pm. Private tours for groups of 5 or more may be arranged outside these hours (Tuesday through Saturday) by emailing or calling us ($10/adults, $5/students)

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We're so happy to celebrate Margaret Phalen's 5th anniversary of service with the Architects Foundation and The Octagon Museum. Congratulations Maggie!
Dolley Madison had a remarkable and harrowing escape from the White House during the War of 1812. Upon returning to DC, she set up residence at The Octagon Museum. The Madisons rebuilt the new country from within its walls. Read all about it in “Unusual For Their Time” Vol1
I went to the Octagon Hall Museum today and got a surprise Look for your self