Architecture and Government
Allan Greenberg (b. 1938) has been called “the most knowing, most serious practitioner of Classicism currently on the scene in his country.”1George L. Hersey, “Design for Diplomacy: Allan Greenberg and the Classical Game,” Architectural Record, October 1985, 161 Despite the overwhelming contemporary preference for modernism in architecture, Allan Greenberg has “worked to make classicism meaningful in our time,” says the critic Paul Goldberger — “and he has succeeded.”2Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize–winning architectural critic, quoted on Allan Greenberg’s website, allangreenberg.com. Greenberg has led renovation, restoration, and construction projects throughout the nation and the world, but it is equally through his teaching and his publications that he has made the case for the classical tradition in architecture and influenced its study and practice.
Greenberg was not always a classicist, however. Born and educated in South Africa, he apprenticed in the studios of modernist Scandinavian architects before immigrating to the United States. After receiving a Master of Architecture degree from Yale University, he worked for the city of New Haven, taught at Yale, and supervised the renovation of courthouses. Along the way, he began to turn away from the modernism in which he had been trained toward a respect for tradition and the geometric proportion evident in ancient temples that was so greatly admired in 18th-century America.
In 1972 Greenberg established his own firm, with offices in Alexandria, Virginia, and New York City. The next year he became an American citizen. Asked to design a farmhouse based on Mount Vernon, he studied the life of George Washington and built an improved version that was even more symmetrical than Washington’s original. Increasingly, Greenberg led a new movement in architecture that sought to emulate the styles and related ideals associated with the time of the nation’s founding. Like Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, he became fascinated by the connection between order in architecture and order within systems of government. This interest he played out magnificently in his design for the Department of State’s Treaty Room, which draws on the architecture of ancient Rome and the Italian Renaissance to evoke the art of diplomacy and the sanctity of democracy.
In addition to George Washington, Architect (1999), Greenberg is the author of The Architecture of Democracy: American Architecture and the Legacy of the Revolution (2006). “Classical architecture,” he says, “is still the most potent, appropriate and noble language to express the relationship of the individual to the community in a republican democracy.”3Quoted in Benjamin Forgey, “A Clear Vision of the Past,” Washington Post, October 14, 1995.
- Section plan for reflected ceiling at the Department of State, Allan Greenberg, 1985.
- Architectural details of Greenberg’s East Antechamber of the Treaty Room Suite.
- Architect Allan Greenberg in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms.