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, the Octagon was first opened to the public as a museum. Today, we use this space of inspiration and influence to demonstrate the value architects and architecture bring to culture. 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.
The Octagon has been renovated multiple times throughout its history using cutting-edge preservation technologies. The building has been restored to its appearance in the 1810s to allow visitors to discover how architecture can teach us about the people who created and used it. By telling the stories of all who lived and worked at the Octagon, from President James Madison to enslaved woman Winney Jackson, we help visitors discover the power of architecture to show us who we are, and who we want to be.