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.