The White House is one of the most iconic buildings in the United States, its neoclassical columned facade is instantly recognizable by most Americans. But the design that was ultimately chosen by George Washington in 1792 was only one of six serious contenders, and three of these alternative concepts have not been available to the public – until now. HouseFees worked with the Maryland Center for History and Culture to access the original drawings and plans and turn them into realistic digital renderings, giving us a glimpse of what might have been if a different White House design had been selected.
Washington and its then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson held a competition to design the White House and the Capitol. Although all proposals for the Capitol building were rejected, they selected a preliminary design for the White House which was ultimately built, designed by Irish architect James Hoban. The design was based on the Charleston County Courthouse of Hoban in Charleston, South Carolina, which Washington had admired on its “tour of the south” the previous year. Other submissions included larger, grander, and in some cases simpler designs, including one secretly submitted by Jefferson himself.
Thomas Jefferson’s White House
An architect in his own right, Jefferson was a fan of classic European design, and of all the entries his anonymous proposal is perhaps the most strikingly different from the White House that we know of. It has a huge dome and a Mansard roof. When he became president in 1801, Jefferson enlarged the White House, adding colonnades and other elements that contributed to its memorable appearance. His design was wrongly attributed for many years to fellow designer Abraham Faws due to a clerical error.
Philip Hart’s White House
Professional builder and amateur architect Philip Hart envisioned a White House with an extra story and lots of windows close together in a faux Italian Renaissance style. Unfortunately, the design did not meet Washington’s criteria for a building that “in size, shape and elegance … would look beyond the present”.
Andrew Mayfield Carshore White House
Similar to Philip Hart’s vision, that of linguist and former British soldier / teacher Andrew Mayfield Carshore, considered his one and only architectural design. Featuring a taller French-style mansard roof topped with twin domes, this concept adapts to the style of pre-revolutionary architecture of the American colonial period. The judges would have thought he “lacked a vital spark”.
Jacob Small’s White House
If this design sounds familiar to you, it might be because it closely resembles George Washington’s historic home, Mount Vernon, located 13 miles south of Washington DC, as well as the Maryland State House in Annapolis. . One of four designs submitted by Jacob Small, this rendering lacks a grand entrance on the north facade, and what it doesn’t show here is a floor plan the judges deemed too complicated.
James Diamond’s White House
Hoban’s fellow Irish architect, James Diamond, imagined a White House around a central rectangular courtyard open to the exterior, flooding the interior with light. He also suggested that it could also be surrounded by a roof and lit from above “which would have a great effect”. Alas, its spectacular double staircases are considered too intricate to suit Washington’s most refined and practical tastes.