Design wars

Sharon McHugh
Monday 24 Aug 2009

The President's House mired in contoversy

In Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, an all out battle is being waged over the design of the President’s House, a memorial to the house where two US Presidents took up residency when Philadelphia was the Capital of the United States from 1790 to 1800. At issue is whether the memorial’s design conforms to historical fact. While some say the project’s design is historically inaccurate, going as far as to launch salvos at the architect claiming he changed the design in secret, representatives of the City, which commissioned the design, say the project was never intended to be a precise reconstruction of the house where George Washington and John Adams conducted their presidencies and where Washington housed nine slaves. Called into question is the house’s dimensions, the shape of its main window and the location of its now infamous slave quarters.

The Presidents House is designed by Kelly/Maiello Architects, which won the project in a national competition in 2007. To be located in Independence National Historic Park, the birthplace of America’s independence, the design marks the footprint of the original building and includes architectural elements of the house, such as the entrance protal, fireplace, chairs and kitchen. Currently under construction, the $8.5 million project is set to open 4 July 2010. But before it does some like the Independence Hall Association, a partner in the project which claims the plans were not properly vetted, would like to see changes made. Those changes include changing the project's octagonal window to a bow (said to the be model for the Oval Office rooms in the White House), moving the memorial’s front wall a couple of feet and changing the location of the slave quarters.

Emanuel Kelly, the designer of the memorial, told the city’s newspaper the Philadelphia Inquirer last week that he was 'flabbergasted' by the vehemence of the criticism. Kelly, who has his share of supporters, said his design was based on a drawing provided by Edward Lawler, a historian involved with the project who is highly critical of it's design, and on 18th Century plans and surveys. In the article, Kelly conceded he made changes to plans to provide access for the disabled but maintained he has conducted his business in the open.

Rosalyn McPherson, who manages the project for the city, said a meeting of the formal Oversight Committee would be held to discuss the matter further.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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United States

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