Architecture Around the World

Supreme Court Building
Washington, DC



Architect :

Cass Gilbert


Herman A. MacNeil



Click on illustrations for larger size -- and additional information



16 Corinthian columns support a portico at its main entrance

The pediment contains the sculpture "Liberty Enthroned Guarded by Order and Authority" by Robert Aitken

On the architrave is incised "Equal Justice Under Law"

16 fluted Corinthian columns support a portico at its main entrance

On either side of the main steps are seated marble figures. These large statues are the work of sculptor James Earle Fraser. On the left is a female figure, the Contemplation of Justice.

Coffered ceiling

Coffered ceiling



Great Hall
Neoclassical style was chosen to reflect democratic ideals. Ironically, Gilbert's friendship with Mussolini helped him obtain the marble used for the interior columns.

Coffered ceiling panel

The frieze is decorated with medallion profiles of lawgivers and heraldic devices.

At the east end of the Great Hall, is the Court Chamber proper -- 82 by 91 feet, with a coffered ceiling 44 feet high. Gilbert walled this imposing room with ivory vein marble from Spain.

Its Ionic 24 columns are Old Convent Quarry Siena marble from Liguria, Italy.

For 146 years the Supreme Court met wherever it could -- a private home, the Royal Exchange (later the Merchants Exchange) building in New York, Philadelphia's city hall, and several other locations. Its most permanent home was the Capitol building; a too-cozy arrangement for a government that prides itself on separation of powers.

Chief Justice William Howard Taft and the Associate Justices admired architect Cass Gilbert’s model for a new Supreme Court building in 1929. Taft had begun lobbying for a separate building as early as 1912, and redoubled his efforts when he became Chief Justice in 1921. Taft not only persuaded Congress to fund the nearly $10 million building, giving the Court its own home for the first time, but he also oversaw its planning and initial construction. When the cornerstone was laid in 1932, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes said of Taft, who had died two years before: “This building is the result of his intelligent persistence.”

One of the last of the large neoclassical Federal buildings erected in the 1930s. It was designed by the noted architect Cass Gilbert who is best known as the architect for the Woolworth Building in New York City. Like Taft, Gilbert did not live to see his dream building completed. He died in 1934. The Court held its first session in the new building on October 7, 1935.

There is three million dollars worth of marble. For the exterior walls alone a thousand freight car loads of flawless stone came from Vermont -- along with a 250-ton slab specifically cut for sculptor James E. Fraser’s allegorical figures at the entrance.


Photos and their arrangement © 2005 Chuck LaChiusa
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