Lincoln's Pyramid: Failed Proposals For DC's Most Famous Monuments

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Retronostalgia is the air. Last week, we looked six New Yorks that could have been. And this week, National Geographic takes a similar look at D.C., for which there are veritable heaps of unbuilt memorials. Ever wondered what the Lincoln Memorial would look like, had it been built by ancient Egyptians?

As you might imagine, the competition to design a national monument was fierce, even in America's infancy. And since the United States had no classical traditions to draw from, being a country without a true creation myth, most architects borrowed from the grand pasts of other cultures, including the Greeks to the Egyptians. As Martin Moeller, a senior curator at the National Building Museum, explains to NatGeo's Luna Shyr:

Now it seems so bizarre. But if you think about it, how much more bizarre is it than using an ancient Egyptian obelisk as a symbol for the nation's first president?


Of course, plenty of the monuments that were actually built borrow from both sources, but we've had several hundred years to get used to the obelisks and edifices we ended up with. By contrast, the failed schemes are shocking. Three of the best follow, but head over to National Geographic for the whole slideshow. [National Geographic]

Washington Monument

If you've ever looked closely at the monument that was built, there's a shift in color—from darker to light—halfway up its face. That's because construction took nearly 40 years to complete, and was halted during the Civil War. During that time, other proposals were put forth, like the bust on the left, designed by Vinnie Ream Hoxi. When work finally resumed, the original design (by Robert Mills, seen on the right) was altered dramatically to fit the style of the day.


Kennedy Center

Edward Durell Stone—the midcentury architect who built the original MoMA and Radio City Music Hall—designed this sinuous cultural center in 1959. According to NatGeo, it was scrapped because of its cost. 13 years later, Stone's alternate design—the rectangular, gridded design we're all familiar with—opened instead.


Lincoln Memorial

John Russell Pope is the author of a handful of Washington's most well-known structures, like the National Archives and the Jefferson Memorial. Lesser known? His zany pyramid proposal for the Lincoln Memorial. According to Moeller and NatGeo, the craziness of this scheme is explained by the fact that Pope wanted the powers that be to change the site for the memorial—making this a well-executed architectural ploy.