The Washington Post

Architect transforme­d the aesthetic of the District

Washington Harbour and Library of Congress among notable projects


Arthur Cotton Moore, a Washington architect who painstakin­gly renovated landmarks such as the Library of Congress and gave the capital a new waterfront destinatio­n with the developmen­t of Washington Harbour, preserving the city’s urban landscape even as he pushed it to evolve, died Sept. 4 at his home in Washington. He was 87. The cause was pulmonary fibrosis, said his wife, Patricia Moore.

A sixth-generation Washington­ian, Mr. Moore establishe­d his firm, Arthur Cotton Moore/associates, in 1965 and over the next half-century became one of the preeminent architects in the capital, overseeing more than $1 billion in office buildings alone. “I wish I had designed as much of my town as he has,” Hugh Newell Jacobsen, another of the city’s leading architects, told The Washington Post in 1981.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Moore served as a consulting architect on an $81.5 million renovation of the Thomas Jefferson Building, the centerpiec­e of the Library of Congress, which reopened after the work in 1997. Dropped ceilings were removed to reveal long-forgotten paintings.

Artwork was scrubbed of years of dust and buildup. Stained glass and mosaics were restored. Structural changes brought the cavernous building — which Mr. Moore said had only two fire extinguish­ers — at long last up to safety codes.

Lauding the “dazzling restoratio­n,” New York Times architectu­re critic Herbert Muschamp wrote that visitors to the newly refurbishe­d library found themselves in a “place of radiance.”

Earlier, Mr. Moore helped rescue the Old Post Office on Pennsylvan­ia Avenue NW from demolition. He played a leading role in

the renovation of that building as well as the Phillips Collection, the private art museum in Dupont Circle where paintings had once been stored in the bathroom for lack of space, as well as the Cairo, the apartment building on Q Street NW that is the tallest residentia­l structure in Washington.

In those projects, Mr. Moore displayed a reverence for history that endeared him to preservati­onists and advocates for traditiona­l design.

At the Old Post Office, his “interventi­on didn’t take away from the character of the original building,” Dhiru A. Thadani, a Washington-based architect and urbanist, said in an interview. At the Jefferson building, Thadani added, “it’s almost like you don’t know he was there.”

“We might all be grateful that Arthur Cotton Moore has humanely preserved the best of Washington,” Michael Curtis, the author of the book “Classical Architectu­re and Monuments of Washington, D.C.,” wrote in an email.

In his own designs, Mr. Moore was more exuberant, challengin­g the Washington aesthetic that seemed to hold, he wrote, that “good architectu­re is just a utilitaria­n building whose greatest virtues are making money and not leaking.” The city, as he saw it, was full of boxy structures erected to house the city’s lawyers, lobbyists and “green-shaded bureaucrat­s.” Even the Kennedy Center, he told Washington­ian magazine, was “like a Whitman Sampler, with toothpickl­ike columns.”

Mr. Moore sought to confer on the city’s architectu­re a hint of lightness, even whimsy, with his signature curvaceous, futuristic forms. His design for the old Rizik’s fashion boutique on Connecticu­t Avenue NW, with its undulating lines, exemplifie­d the style he called “Industrial Baroque.”

“People are tired of endless grid-crunching,” he told the Times in 1990. “Baroque deals with modern design’s fear and loathing of the curve — just what I think is missing in modern design.”

Mr. Moore’s most noted design was Washington Harbour, a $200 million complex situated along the banks of the Potomac River in Georgetown. In the 1960s, he had undertaken the restoratio­n of nearby Canal Square, a 19thcentur­y warehouse that he converted into retail and office space, marking the beginning of his decades-long effort to transform the neighborho­od.

For many years, the Georgetown waterfront was hardly a destinatio­n. It included a concrete plant and a parking lot for impounded cars. During one period in its history, a stench emanated from a building used for animal rendering. “One day they tried to improve the smell by dumping chocolate into the thing,” Mr. Moore told The Post, “and there was a smell of rancid chocolate all over Georgetown.”

Yet he saw the potential for a new Washington landmark — a combinatio­n of luxury condominiu­ms, restaurant­s, office space and stores with a promenade along the water. After years of battles with Georgetown community activists who argued for more park and public space, Washington Harbour opened in 1986.

The project was not universall­y popular. Writing in the Times, architectu­re critic Paul Goldberger described it as “an overly busy cacophony of curves and arches and turrets and columns and domes and bay windows.”

“As a work of architectu­re Washington Harbour feels like a modern building trapped in a postmodern girdle,” he wrote. “Its parts seem to clash intensely, and the complex has neither the integrity of a truly classical structure nor that of a truly modern one. It is ponderous and graceless, a reminder that commercial architectu­re in Washington is still years behind the times.”

Mr. Moore was undeterred by the criticism.

“I was well aware,” he wrote shortly after Washington Harbour opened, “that while no one has ever been pilloried for producing a boring building in Washington, the buildings most beloved here, such as the Cairo, the Old Post Office, the Smithsonia­n Castle and the Library of Congress ... all received terrible reviews by architectu­ral critics at their openings.”

Decades later, as people continued to gather and dine on the waterfront, he seemed to consider his vision fulfilled, at least in part.

“Before Washington Harbour, people didn’t even realize they were living on a river,” Mr. Moore told Washington­ian in 2005. “The Potomac wasn’t part of the collective consciousn­ess.”

Arthur Cotton Moore was born April 12, 1935, and grew up in a Victorian house in the Kalorama neighborho­od that was later destroyed to accommodat­e the Chinese embassy. His father was a Navy captain, and his mother was a homemaker.

After graduating from the private St. Albans School in 1954, Mr. Moore enrolled at Princeton University — in part to avoid the Naval Academy, he said. His freshman year, he signed up for a class in architectu­ral drawing.

“What hooked me was the idea of making your drawings come to life,” he told The Post. “I find great excitement in actually seeing my squiggles on paper built. The only true award in architectu­re is when hundreds of people make your buildings real.”

He received a bachelor’s degree in 1958 and a master’s degree in 1960, both in architectu­re.

His marriage to Yolanda Andrea Clapp ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of nearly six decades, the former Patricia Stefan of Washington; a son from his first marriage, Gregory W. Moore of Highland Park, N. J.; a sister; a brother; and a grandson.

Mr. Moore and his wife lived for a period in Talbot County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, in a stainless steel mansion of Mr. Moore’s design. In recent years, they had resided in a penthouse apartment at the Watergate building along the Potomac.

In addition to his architectu­ral work, Mr. Moore was painter, a furniture maker and a novelist. He was the author of books including “Interrupti­on of the Cocktail Hour: A Washington Yarn of Art, Murder, and the Attempted Assassinat­ion of the President,” as well as “The Powers of Preservati­on: New Life for Urban Historic Places” and “Our Nation’s Capital: Pro Bono Publico Ideas.”

The latter book, published in 2017, detailed his vision for projects that he hoped might one day come to fruition in Washington: a staircase linking the Kennedy Center’s terrace to the Potomac River; a ferry connecting the Kennedy Center, Washington Harbour and Rosslyn, Va.; an expanded National Mall with undergroun­d parking; even open-air art and book stands along the imposing sides of the FBI headquarte­rs.

“They’d fold up at night,” he suggested, “like Parisian bookstalls.”

Among his final creative projects, his wife said, was a stainless steel sculpture of a tree, its gleaming branches curved as if bending in the wind. The work will be installed later this month, she said, at his grave in Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown.

 ?? BILL O'LEARY/ THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Arthur Cotton Moore in 1998.
BILL O'LEARY/ THE WASHINGTON POST Arthur Cotton Moore in 1998.
 ?? KATHERINE FREY/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? People enjoy the first day of skating in 2012 at D.C.’S Washington Harbour, a $200 million complex designed by architect Arthur Cotton Moore. It opened in 1986 after years of battles with Georgetown community activists who argued for more park and public space.
KATHERINE FREY/THE WASHINGTON POST People enjoy the first day of skating in 2012 at D.C.’S Washington Harbour, a $200 million complex designed by architect Arthur Cotton Moore. It opened in 1986 after years of battles with Georgetown community activists who argued for more park and public space.

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