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Unbuilt Washington: National Building Museum Exhibit

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Can you imagine the D.C. skyline without the familiar obelisk of the Washington Monument? If Peter Force’s 1837 design had been chosen, it could have been a hollowed-out pyramid. Or what if Memorial Bridge welcomed visitors to the city with looming turrets and towers instead of the low profile it presents today?

Proposed Memorial Bridge in Honor of General U.S. Grant. Print of rendering by P.J. Pelz, 1887.

These possibilities and many more are explored through Unbuilt Washington, an exhibit on display through May 28, 2012 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. On view are competition entries, speculative projects, and urban design schemes all proposed for D.C. but never executed.

Dozens of drawings and prints from the collections of the Prints and Photographs Division were lent for the exhibit. Included among them are two 1790’s drawings of the Tortola scheme for the U.S. Capitol by William Thornton, acquired as part of the American Institute of Architects/American Architectural Foundation (AIA/AAF) Collection.

What if the Library of Congress had been built without a dome?  Or if proposed extensions to the White House had added multiple domes?  Explore over two hundred years of design decisions in Unbuilt Washington.

Learn More:

  • Visit the website for Unbuilt Washington to see drawings, videos and interactive maps accompanying the exhibit, and to learn about visiting the National Building Museum in person.
  • See the drawings and prints borrowed from the Library for the exhibit within the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.


  1. Very nice entry that invites exploration and a trip to the exhibition!

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