5 Types of Architecture Associated with US Presidents

The Architecture of Place

Birthplace home of President Richard Nixon, Yorba Linda, California
Birthplace home of President Richard Nixon, Yorba Linda, California. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images

Do you think the American Presidency is all about politics? Think again. Remember the phrase George Washington slept here? Since the founding of the country, Presidents of the United States have gotten around, forever being associated with places.

Sometimes the place becomes famous after a person becomes president. Some places become famous during a presidency. Most monuments, like gravestones, are built after the president's death, to honor the person's service to the US.

Nevertheless, American presidents seem to be associated with at least five types of architecture:

Presidents' Homes:

All US Presidents are associated with the White House in Washington, DC. Even George Washington, who never lived there, oversaw its construction. In addition to this common residence, all US Presidents are associated with personal residences. George Washington's Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, and Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield are all good examples.

Then there are all the childhood homes and birthplaces of our presidents. Of course, nobody knows who will become president, so many of these early homes were torn down before they became part of history. Surprisingly, the first president to be born in a hospital, instead of a home, was President Jimmy Carter, our 39th president.

Presidential Retreats:

Have you ever noticed how the presidency ages the person in office?

It's a stressful job, and the president must make time for rest and relaxation. Since 1942, the country has provided Camp David as a get-away for the president's exclusive use. Located in the Maryland mountains, the compound was a 1930s project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a Depression-era New Deal program.

But Camp David is not enough. Every president has had a retreat—some have had both summer and winter White Houses. Lincoln used the Cottage at the Soldiers' Home, now known as Lincoln's Cottage. President Kennedy always had the family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. George Herbert Walker Bush went to Walker's Point in Kennebunkport, Maine. Nixon had a little concrete block ranch house in Key Biscayne, Florida, and Truman set up shop at the Little White House in Key West, Florida. All presidents are welcome to use Sunnylands, once a private residence, in Rancho Mirage, California. All too often, presidential retreats like Sunnylands and Camp David have also been used to meet with foreign leaders in a less formal setting. Remember the Camp David Accords of 1978?

Sites of Presidential Events:

All presidential events don't happen in Washington, DC.  Bretton Woods, a gorgeous hotel in the mountains of New Hampshire, was the site of an international agreement after World War II. Similarly, President Woodrow Wilson traveled to the Palace of Versailles outside of Paris, France, to sign the treaty that ended World War I. These two places are historic landmarks for what happened there.

Today's presidents campaign, debate, and rally constituents all across the United States—in town halls and convention halls.  Presidential events are not DC-centric—even the site where George Washington took the oath of office in 1789 was in Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City.

Monuments to Presidents:

Any community can memorialize a favorite son, but Washington, DC is the main setting for the nation's monuments. The Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Jefferson Memorial may be the most famous in DC, but Mount Rushmore in South Dakota may be the most iconic presidential tribute carved in stone.

Presidential Libraries and Museums:

"Who owns a public servant's papers?" has been a question hotly debated—and legislated. Presidential Libraries did not come into existence until the 20th century, and today raw, archival information, along with the massaging of the presidential message, are combined in buildings like the Bush Library in College Station, Texas and the other Bush Library in Dallas.

We take special note of these historic buildings, monuments, and research centers, and await the conflicts that will, no doubt, surround the next presidential library building. It seems to happen every time.

A Sense of Place:

How does the architecture of place relate to you?

Everyone's lives are similar. You, too, have a place of birth, a workplace, and most of you will remember "where you were" when you experienced an important event. Although we may not ever become the President of the United States, we all have a sense of place in our lives. Find out yours by answering these five questions:

  1. HOME: Where were you born? Not only the city and state, but have you gone back to see the building? What does it look like? Describe your childhood home.
  2. RETREAT: Where do you go to relax and find peace? What is your favorite vacation place?
  3. EVENT: Where was your graduation ceremony? Where was your first kiss? Did you ever have to speak to a large group of people? Where were you when you won an important prize?
  4. MONUMENT: Do you have a trophy case? Will you have a gravestone? Have you ever built a monument to memorialize someone else? Should monuments even exist?
  5. ARCHIVES: Chances are that all of the papers in your life will not be kept forever, because there is no legal requirement to do so. But what about your digital trail? What have you left behind, and where is it? It's no surprise that the words architecture and design are also words used to describe computer spaces and places. Now might be a good time to begin thinking about the architecture of place.

Fun With Presidents' Places:

  • George Washington Slept Here starring Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan, DVD, 1942 movie directed by William Keighley, based on a play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
    Buy on Amazon
  • LEGO Architecture Series: The White House
    Buy on Amazon