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Architects to the Nation
Antoinette J. Lee

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Architects to the Nation: The Rise and Decline of the Supervising Architect's Office provides the first comprehensive history of the Office of the Supervising Architect, the organization that designed federal government buildings from the early 1850s to the late 1930s. Author Antoinette J. Lee examines the evolution of the Office, traces its creative output, and describes the public relations battles between the government architects and the architects in private practice. The result is a unique and authoritative study of the nation's efforts to achieve an appropriate civic architecture

The Office of the Supervising Architect--an "architectural firm" within the federal government--designed numerous customhouses, federal courthouses, post offices, federal office buildings, and other structures in thousands of communities across the country. Among its creations are the well-known State, War, and Navy building (now the Old Executive Office Building) in Washington, DC, the San Francisco Mint Building, and smaller post offices that have served communities for decades. Although the Office handled some of the most important architectural commissions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, surprisingly little is known about it or about the men who served as Supervising Architect. Former Supervising Architects include such well know figures as Alfred B. Mullett and Ammi B.Young, as well as obscure figures like Mifflin E. Bell and Jeremiah O'Rourke. Over the years, the Office employed scores of architects, some of whom later established their own private practices and achieved local or regional renown thought their private commissions. Growing tensions among private architects, represented by the American Institute of Architects, threatened the scope and power of the Office for much of its history. Although artistically vigorous during the Great Depression era, the work of the Office was cut short by World War II and it never regained its status in the post-war era. Today, many of these buildings are still in active service to the nation. Many of them are recognized as National Historic Landmarks, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, or designated as local landmarks. 

Antoinette J. Lee works as a historian in the cultural resources programs of the National Park Service and teaches in the Master of Arts Program in Historic Preservation at Goucher College.

Architects to the Nation: The Rise and Decline of the Supervising Architect's Office is available from Oxford University Press (ISBN 0-19-512822-2) for $45 in hardcover.

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