Preserving the past for a better future
Since its beginning in 1799, The Octagon has symbolized power and national influence in Washington, DC. The Octagon was the private winter residence for the wealthiest plantation family in Virginia, who built in the newly-established capital to entertain national and international politicians. Tying it closer to our nation’s history, the building was designed by the first architect of the United States Capitol, William Thornton, and the building served for six months as the White House after the 1814 Burning of Washington.
Recognizing the national importance of this building, The American Institute of Architects (AIA) established The Octagon as its national headquarters in 1898. In the 1970s AIA constructed its current headquarters on the site of The Octagon’s original outbuildings, and today AIA serves more than 94,000 members. In the 1970s, The Octagon was first opened to the public as a museum. Now owned by the Architects Foundation, The Octagon continues to inspire current and future architects, and highlights important moments and movements in American and architectural history.
The Architects Foundation uses The Octagon to reflect on the value of what architects can bring to culture, and how architecture can be representative of the culture, time period, and community in which it was built. This is accomplished by looking at the changing use of space within the house from 1800 to today, through architecture and history exhibits and tours, and through public programming. As the first home to AIA in the nation’s capitol, and one of the first private residences in Washington DC, The Octagon has been a site of influence and inspiration for more than 200 years.