Fact Friday: GSA’s Closest Neighbor

The Octagon House, which is six floors below and across the street from the Administrator’s Office, is GSA’s Closest Neighbor. Besides sharing the same Foggy Bottom neighborhood, GSA and the Octagon have much in common, especially in the architectural, political, and cultural history of America.

The Octagon House, built between 1798 and 1800, was designed by Dr. William Thornton, the architect of the U.S. Capitol, and completed by 1800.  It was adapted to an irregular-shaped lot, it displays a dramatic break with the traditional, late Georgian and early Federal house planning that preceded it. This is a historical forefather of many modern federal office buildings in GSA’s Public Buildings Service portofolio.

The Octagon House in Washington DC.
The Octagon House in Washington DC.

The Octagon achieves a zenith in federal architecture in the United States, through a plan which combines a circle, two rectangles, and a triangle, and the elegance and restraint of the interior and exterior decoration. The Coade stone, stoves, other decorative elements, and furniture were imported from England. The construction materials, such as bricks, timber, iron, and Aquia Creek sandstone were all manufactured locally. It is 18th century ancestor of today’s GSA Green Proving Ground.

Though the three story red brick building is a reminder of Washington’s darkest hour, when the British torched the White House during the War of 1812. By becoming the temporary “Executive Mansion” for President James Madison and Mrs Madison for six months, it historically represents GSA’s mission of finding temporary office space during a national emergency.

After over two centuries of use, adaptation, renovation, and restoration, the Octagon continues to serve as a reminder of the great beauty of early American design and the lasting value of architectural excellence. By updating its plumbing and restoring its facade, the Octagon has a common link with GSA’s historical preservation program.

In 1898, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) rented the Octagon, and the organization purchased the building in 1902. AIA is an important stakeholder in GSA’s Design Excellence. The Octagon and GSA share more than a neighborhood.