The Octagon

Washington, DC

Client: The American Architectural Foundation

Project Type: Comprehensive Interior and Exterior Restoration

The Octagon was constructed between 1799 and 1801 to the design of William Thornton, architect of the U.S. Capitol. Prior to its purchase in 1902 by the American Institute of Architects, the building was a private home that provided temporary housing for President and Mrs. James Madison after the President’s house was burned by the British in 1814. It now functions as the Museum of the American Architectural Foundation, with both contemporary gallery spaces and historic period rooms.

Under the direction of John G. Waite, the firm prepared a historic structure report and master plan for the building and directed a comprehensive restoration of the building using state-of-the-art building conservation technology. The stabilization of original jack arches, which required the development of new and innovative restoration techniques, received funding from the Getty Grant program.

The interior restoration work included the removal of a steel and concrete floor structure that was installed in the 1950s, restored finishes in all rooms, and new HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and security systems throughout the building. Air handlers and other mechanical equipment were removed from the basement and attic to free space for restoration and interpretation. New mechanical equipment was located outside the house in an adjacent underground concrete vault.

The site around The Octagon was also restored: the brick pathways in the garden were replicated; brick steps at the rear of the yard were constructed to match the original steps; exterior lighting was installed to illuminate all facades of The Octagon and along the walkway; and a historic landscape plan was implemented.