FEDERAL OFFICE BUILDING IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
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Building, Washington, D.C.
Sketch by Curtis, nd.
Forrestal Building in Washington, D.C., designed by our firm, was
dedicated on 18 November 1969. It houses 7,500 workers for the top
echelon of the Department of Defense and is located on Independence
Avenue and the 10th Street Mall, directly across from the Smithsonian
Institution. It was the largest Federal office building in the city
when built and the first truly contemporary architecture ever approved
for construction there.
when our group was awarded the commission for the building, it was
considered to be one of the most important plums that an architect
could have. Most architectural firms have never had an opportunity
to design a building in the nation's capital, and those considering
themselves eligible for selection were much older with more years
of practice and, even more important, more politically oriented
than we. No Southern firm had done a significant building in the
capital since Benjamin Latrobe (1766-1820).
an Englishman by birth, is generally acknowledged as the founder
of the professional practice of architecture in the U.S. Appointed
by Thomas Jefferson in 1803 as Surveyor of the Public Buildings
in the U.S., Latrobe was charged with the completion of the Capitol
at Washington. He also did work in Philadelphia, Norfolk, Richmond,
and New Orleans. In New Orleans, he designed the city's water system,
the U.S. Customhouse [the building he designed in 1807 failed],
monuments for Governor Claiborne's first and second wives in St.
Louis Cemetery No. 1, and the Louisiana State Bank in the French
Quarter. The bank was Latrobe's last design. He died in New Orleans
of yellow fever and was buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, but
his gravesite has been lost.
THE ROBERT TROUTMAN CONNECTION, BEGINNING
The story of our selection and the construction of the building
in the face of tremendous opposition begins, strangely enough, in
the British West Indies in 1955, fourteen years before the Forrestal
Building was completed. In that year, I met Robert Troutman of Atlanta,
a graduate of the University of Georgia and Harvard, a lawyer and
pursued two careers at the same time, throwing himself wholeheartedly
into both. In one career, which he worked from 3:00 a.m. until 9:00
a.m., he assembled on tape jazz, swing, classical, opera, and Broadway
plays. In the other, which he worked from 9:00 a.m. until late at
night, he developed a string of hotels in the British West Indies.
man had decided that the American tourist in search of sunshine,
warmth, and the sea would, upon the advent of the jet plane, fly
in great numbers to the islands south of Miami. He reasoned there
would be a need for resort hotels. The British Tourist and Development
Commission, in search of ways to improve the depressed economy,
agreed to finance the project. Because of its experience in New
Orleans, Atlanta, Nashville, and Birmingham, the Dinkler Hotel chain
would be the operator.
On numerous trips, Troutman, Carling Dinkler Jr., and I traveled
all over the West Indies and selected prominent sites for hotels
in Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, British Honduras, British Guiana,
and Trinidad. One such site was a beautiful hilltop in Trinidad
overlooking the sea. The design called for the entrance lobby to
be at the summit of the top floor with the room floors arranged
below, stepping down the side of the hill. When the plan was announced,
the natives called it the Upside-Down Hotel, and a calypso song
was written about it.
We were in
Trinidad when we heard the tragic news that Dinkler Sr. had jumped
out of the window of the Dinkler Plaza in Atlanta. This project
had dragged on much longer than expected; the British were slow
to act; interest on the money invested in land was mounting; and
the death of Dinkler Sr. caused the ambitious project to disintegrate.
Troutman and Dinkler Jr. flew home to Atlanta, and I came back to
New Orleans. I didn't see Troutman again for six years.