James Hoban Born 1755 – Died December 8, 1831, was an Irish architect, best known for designing the White House in Washington, D.C. Some years back a team of architecture students from American both designed and built the Hoben monument featured here in this post. From the moment it became clear how this monument would look, I have been fascinated by its design and construction, it stands out locally for just how unique it feels surrounded by farm land and remote country lanes.
The Feature I love most about it is the way that at sunrise and sunset the light passes through the glass, the words written in the glass cast both shadows and reflections on the stone work and grass all around them, even to simple look through the glass panels and into the sun is a great experience, it has for myself succeeded to be a great example of modern public art and architecture.
This was the last post for the Seven day – one week, black and white Challenge, Thank you to Sharon Walters Knight for tagging me on Facebook to take part, I have really enjoyed the hunt for black and white subjects, its taken me back to the basics of what photography is all about 🙂
James Hoban was from the Desart estate, near Callan county Kilkenny and is the architect of the White House (late-1793 or early-1794).
In 2008, 24 architecture students from the a University in Washington DC completed the memorial “Spirit of place” in his honour. I took the photographs posted here in 2011, one very clear night and then the last image on a evening last spring.
“James Hoban was raised on an estate belonging to the Earl of Desart in Cuffesgrange, near Callan in County Kilkenny. He worked there as a wheelwright and carpenter until his early twenties, when he was given an ‘advanced student’ place in the Dublin Society’s Drawing School on Lower Grafton Street.
He excelled in his studies and received the prestigious Duke of Leinster’s medal for drawings of “Brackets, Stairs, and Roofs.” from the Dublin Society in 1780. Later Hoban found a position as an apprentice to the headmaster of the Dublin Society School the Cork-born architect Thomas Ivory from 1779? to 1785 .
Following the American Revolutionary War, Hoban immigrated to the United States, and established himself as an architect in Philadelphia in 1785.
Charleston County Courthouse, Charleston, SC (1790-92), James Hoban, architect.
Hoban’s amended elevation of the White House (late-1793 or early-1794).
Hoban was in South Carolina by April 1787, where he designed numerous buildings including the Charleston County Courthouse (1790–92), built on the ruins of the former South Carolina Statehouse (1753, burned 1788). President Washington admired Hoban’s work on his Southern Tour, may have met with him in Charleston in May 1791, and summoned the architect to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (the temporary national capital) in June 1792.
In July 1792, Hoban was named winner of the design competition for the White House. His initial design seems to have had a 3-story facade, 9 bays across (like the Charleston courthouse). Under Washington’s influence, Hoban amended this to a 2-story facade, 11 bays across, and, at Washington’s insistence, the whole presidential mansion was faced with stone. It is unclear whether any of Hoban’s surviving drawings are actually from the competition.
Hoban was also one of the supervising architects who served on the Capitol, carrying out the design of Dr. William Thornton.
Hoban lived the rest of his life in Washington, D.C., where he worked on other public buildings and government projects, including roads and bridges. He also designed Rossenarra House near the village of Kilmoganny in Kilkenny, Ireland in 1824.
Hoban’s wife Susanna Sewall was the daughter of the prominent Georgetown “City Tavern” proprietor.
Hoban was also involved in the development of Catholic institutions in the city, including Georgetown University (where his son was a member of the Jesuit community), St. Patrick’s Parish, and the Visitation Convent founded by another Kilkenny native, Teresa Lalor of Ballyragget.
Hoban died in Washington, D.C. on December 8, 1831. He is buried at historic Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C.”
A Spirit of place
Photo by Kilkenny photographer: Nigel Borrington, kilkenny photography series.
From the Kilkenny People:
“James Hoban memorial now set in stone
A GROUP of American students and a few locals have spent the past week and a half constructing a memorial to James Hoban at his native Desart, Cuffesgra-nge and it will be celebrated tomorrow (Thursday) with an evening of festivities starting at 6.30pm.
The American group arrived in Callan on the Saturday night and “got our Irish sustenance quota”, then visited the site the next day and got to work at 7am on the Monday morning, explained architect Travis Price, director of the Spirit of Place Competition, which resulted in the design of the memorial to the man who designed the White House in Washington DC. The group then worked through last week, making the most of the long evenings and “working like banshees”, and expect to be putting on the finishing touches today (Wednesday).
Those taking part included the 24 architecture students from the Catholic University in Washington DC who designed the memorial; Kathleen Lane, who works for the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and is president of the Washington DC James Hoban Society; three master masons from the Callan area; neighbouring farmer Ned Brennan who was out helping with his tractor; and seven or eight local craftsmen.
Although not native to the area, the group does have a few Irish connections. Some of the students had visited Ireland previously, and about two-thirds of them are of Irish descent. Ms Lane’s cousin owns Dempsey’s pub in Kilkenny, “and Jennifer Butler kissed the Butler castle when she got here”, Mr Price said.
The structure they have created is 30 metres long and as high as 3 metres, incorporating all local stone except for some Italian marble, and glass panels shooting up into space.
As you walk up, the first section is made of rubble and rough stone, like the stone walls built between fields, early technology where “the stone does all the work”, Mr Price explained. The second section features more refined, cut stone to reflect emotions that were more refined. The third is made of Kilkenny limestone, ending with Italian marble which, like the White House, is “a lot more pure and polished”.
“Hoban’s inspiration was Leinster House originally, that kind of Georgian design – not that we thought much of George ourselves. We had a rough time with the British too,” the architect said in reference to George I, George II and George III, who ruled Britain from the era of America’s 13 colonies through to when it gained its independence. In fact it was under George III’s reign that the White House was set on fire by the British during the War of 1812, which is also referred to as a second war of independence.
This Georgian influence makes it appropriate to incorporate Italian marble into the Hoban memorial, Mr Price said. “The Georgian period had a strong Greco-Roman influence; it’s this classical architecture that Leinster House and the White House are emulating.”
Etched onto the glass panels are also words such as ‘perseverance’, ‘struggle’, ‘triumph’ and ‘rising’, as large as 15 inches and as small as two inches high. Written in English and as Gaeilge, they are a reflection of the bond between Irish and American culture and history.
A design of its time
The design for the James Hoban Memorial was created by the Catholic University students for the annual Spirit of Place Competition, which has also resulted in four projects in Mayo and others in British Columbia, Katmandu, Italy and a star-gazing temple in Machu Picchu. For this annual project the students take a cultural metaphor and create a modern abstract design.
“It’s about, how do you grab the essence and refine it down to something quite minimal,” Mr Price explained. In the case of James Hoban, they incorporated “the struggle and hard work, the perseverance and then that happy moment when George Washington said, ‘I like this Hoban guy. Bring him here to build the president’s home’.”
When the competition was being run to design the White House, Thomas Jefferson had also entered it under a false name, but George Washington was able to spot his design, and preferred Hoban’s work. “Washington was more of a plain soldier,” Mr Price explained, whereas Jefferson was more influenced by the French.”
James Hoban was “something of the stately and the common man, and very much of his time”.
It was this characteristic which shaped the spirit of the memorial to celebrate the architect. During the design phase there was much discussion with the Office of Public Works (OPW), people in Callan and Hoban’s heirs. Some people suggested that it should be a more literal representation, perhaps a copy of the White House.
“That is the last thing Hoban would have done, to copy something that was not of his time,” Mr Price said.
Hoban, James (c.1758–1831). Irish-born, he emigrated to America in 1785. He won the competition to design the President’s House, Washington, DC, with a proposal (1792) originally based on Leinster House, Dublin, but altered at the request of Washington and Jefferson. As built, the White House, (1793–1801, rebuilt 1814–29) was derived from plate 41 of Gibbs’s A Book of Architecture (1728). His other Washington buildings (hotels, houses, and Government buildings) no longer exist.
Architecture, xi (1981), 66–82;
ARe xi (1901), 581–9;
Dictionary of American Biography (1932);
Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, xxviii/2 (May 1969), 135–6;
Ryan & and Guinness (1980)