Painted portrait of the second Architect of the Capitol, Benjamin Henry Latrobe.
Benjamin Henry Latrobe was hired by President Jefferson in 1803 to fill the...
The Architect of the Capitol works to make the United States Capitol dome, an...
Blue heron carved in stone at the focal point, the central fountain, in the perimeter wall surrounding Capitol Square.

Architect's Notebook: Design with Purpose

As many of you know, I love birds. I made the mistake of announcing at a meeting some time ago that I occasionally listen to CDs of bird calls and songs as I drive to and from work. Most of the members of my team have made fun of me since then, while a few other bird enthusiasts have secretly come forward.

I live near the Chesapeake Bay, which is a magnificent place if you are a birder. About a million swans, geese and ducks spend their winters on the Bay, while several others use it as a place to refuel as they migrate in the spring and fall.

One of the grandest birds on the Bay, and also one of my favorites, is the great blue heron. I love their beautiful steel blue color with hints of white, yellow and gray. Their ability to stand quietly and motionless is amazing. It also allows them to remain stealthy hunters and one of the Bay's top predators.

At up to four feet tall, they are big birds, and when they fly it's hard to believe they can get airborne. They are both beautiful and majestic creatures.

Our grand U.S. Capitol Building is both beautiful and majestic as well. To me it's only fitting that Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect of the U.S. Capitol Grounds, had a heron carved in stone at the focal point, the central fountain, in the perimeter wall surrounding Capitol Square. As one approaches the fountain, it's easy to sense that this is both a great place and a place of greats.

I can imagine weary travelers approaching the U.S. Capitol from the west, eager for a refreshing drink of water from the fountain. Then as they look up, seeing the stately heron carved in stone before looking up a bit further to see our splendid U.S. Capitol Building.

To me, Olmsted's selection of what image to carve was purposeful, and when images reinforce one another a sense of order and purpose are present. This sense of order and balance are comforting to me.

I hope you're able to take in some of the finer details around our beautiful campus this spring as the flowers and fountains burst to life.

Stephen T. Ayers is the 11th Architect of the Capitol.


Ronald M. Johnson (not verified)
Great comments. Transition from birds on the Bay to stone versions on the Capitol grounds an intriguing point. The latter advances a larger "sense of order and purpose" by including images of nature as part of this great building.

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