The American History Guild – The Father of American Architecture

The Founding Fathers created a governmental structure unique in human history… and they wished for an architectural style that would properly represent the new country… a uniquely American Architecture.  In fact Thomas Jefferson, in particular, not only wished for it, he studied and drew plans and elevations himself in an effort to create all things “American”.  But the genius that was Jefferson recognized he was not fully trained in the technicalities of architectural practice, and so he looked to his friend Benjamin Latrobe.Benjamin Henry Boneval Latrobe was born in Britain on May 1, 1764 and came to America in 1796 at the age of 32 perhaps being the first formally trained, professional Architect ever to work in America.  It is interesting to think the US was only two decades old when he arrived from Europe, and apparently the work was sporadic and spread out because he stayed on the move.  He immediately went to work in Richmond designing a penitentiary, but didn’t stay for more than a few short years.  In addition to work in Virginia, he designed projects in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington DC, and New Orleans.Latrobe was a friend of Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and Aaron Burr.  Latrobe’s relationship with Jefferson very likely influenced the design and layout of the University of Virginia.  Latrobe spent fourteen years in Washington DC, and after the War of 1812 he became the second “Architect of the Capitol” in 1815.  But his Neoclassical training and interests clashed with some of the powers in the Federal city, including the city planner – Pierre L’Enfant.  Latrobe resigned in 1817 with serious financial problems which eventually forced him into bankruptcy and he moved again, to Baltimore…and again, to New Orleans.Arriving in January 1819, Latrobe spent the latter years of his life in New Orleans working on a large waterworks project.  Latrobe’s design was patterned after that of Philadelphia which he also designed as a response to constant yellow fever epidemics.  The project was quite sophisticated and included the ability to desalt water using steam powered pumps, but unfortunately he did not live to see its completion.  Mr. Latrobe died September 3, 1820 from the very disease he was trying to eradicate and was buried in the Saint Louis Cemetery in New Orleans, where his son Henry Sellon Boneval Latrobe – also an Architect had been buried three years earlier having also died of yellow fever.Check out this great video story about Latrobe from PBS:

via The American History Guild – The Father of American Architecture.


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