Purpose Through Beauty
John Blatteau (b. 1943) has built a career by following the beauty of classicism. Rejecting modernism in architecture, he prefers styles that, in their geometric proportion and symmetry, recall the temples of ancient Greece and Rome.
Blatteau was born in Philadelphia and has lived there all his life. He studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and began teaching architecture at Drexel University in 1978. He has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania. In his studio classes and through his published work, he advocates the importance of classical design. His firm John Blatteau Associates, founded in 1983, has won awards from the American Institute of Architects and from the Pennsylvania Society of Architects.
In the 1980s, when Blatteau Associates undertook several restoration projects for the 150-year-old Riggs National Bank in Washington, D.C., one architectural critic found it “impossible not to wonder, ‘What century are these people from?’” Blatteau was cast as ultraconservative, his pure classicism out of touch with modern practice. Blatteau countered that in classicism, architectural style and the decorative elements supporting it are an expression of “dignity, security, stability, and permanence.”1 Quotations from Benjamin Forgey, “Classic Designs, Newly Minted,” Washington Post, June 23, 1990. Blatteau is known for this understanding of the way architectural design gives historic significance to interior spaces.
So when, around the same time, the Department of State initiated a competition among nine architects for a design of the immense Benjamin Franklin Dining Room for the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, it was no surprise that Blatteau won. His vision for this magnificent space drew on a classical style historic property in England to shape a meticulously rendered grand hall that is also uniquely American. What time is it from? The 1790s — perfect for its purpose, and, of course, beautiful.
- The Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room as it appears today, looking towards the Thomas Jefferson State Reception Room.
- The architect John Blatteau standing in the completed Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room, ca. 1985.
- The Franklin Room prior to its transformation into a period-style grand hall.