What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

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Places

The Washingtonians Who Fought to Keep Their City as the Nation’s Capital

Rivalries Over Its Political Symbolism, and Damage From the War of 1812, Nearly Destroyed the City

By Adam Costanzo
October 15, 2018

As the national capital, Washington, D.C. always has carried special meaning—representing both the federal government and the United States as a whole. No matter how Americans might feel about the state of the nation at any given time, they typically respect and revere the city—visiting on vacations and school trips by the millions each year.

Many might be surprised to learn, therefore, that at one particularly precarious point in the city’s history during the War of 1812, Congress seriously debated …

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Identities

Why Do So Many Public Buildings in the U.S. Look Like Greek Temples?

In the Architectural Void of a New Nation, William Strickland Borrowed from Ancient Athens to Express America's Democratic Ethos

By Robert Russell
September 20, 2018

President Andrew Jackson took a keen interest in the construction of the federal mint in Philadelphia, a grand, columned edifice, inspired by the temples of ancient Greece, that opened in 1833. Jackson was not a man known for his appreciation of cultural and artistic pursuits. A populist who famously railed against the elites, he had initially wanted to construct a simple building for minting money quickly, because there was a severe shortage of specie—coins—in the country at the time.

Gradually, though, he came around to the idea of a grander mint, and became personally involved in many aspects …

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Places

Why Broadway Meanders up Manhattan’s Grid

New York's Most Iconic Street Grew Organically From Colonial Cowpath Into an Allegorical Strand

By Fran Leadon
April 23, 2018

I first saw Broadway from the air. It was 1990 and I was flying with my architecture class from the University of Florida up to Boston so we could learn about cities. Our silver Eastern Airlines plane flew low—alarmingly low, I thought at the time—over Manhattan and soared up the island south to north, the pilot alerting us to the view of the Big Apple below. I could clearly pick out Broadway because, as I had read, it didn’t follow …

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Identities

Capturing the Architecture of American Agriculture—and a Passing Way of Life

For 45 Years, David Hanks Has Photographed Feed Mills in Every Season and Mood

By David Hanks
August 24, 2017

“Why would anyone want to take pictures of a place like this?”

That’s the question I often get when I enter the office of a feed mill or grain elevator, asking permission to make photographs on the property or inside the buildings.

Showing other photos that I’ve taken usually satisfies the operator that I’m not working for the local tax assessor or real estate agent, and I receive permission to proceed.

A mill in New Era, Michigan. Photo by David …

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Ideas

The Surprisingly Modest Start to McMansion Sprawl

Builders Like the Campanelli Brothers Helped Fuel Midcentury Suburban Desire, from Massachusetts to Moscow

By Barbara Miller Lane
May 24, 2016

After V-J Day—August 14, 1945—millions of World War II veterans came home and began to look for a place to live. New highways, cars, and government-sponsored mortgages encouraged them to dream big. Up until that point, Americans, especially immigrant Americans, had thought of the Land of Opportunity as the place where discipline and hard work would guarantee prosperity and upward social mobility. After the War, they believed they could have more. The American Dream now meant home ownership and spatial …

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Places

The Puritans Didn’t Have ‘Mudrooms’

The Modern Obsession With a Spotless Home Ignores Early Americans’ Dirtiest Traditions

By Jim Garman
April 28, 2015

It’s late at night, and I’m staring at seed catalogues while the scripted tones of a reality real estate show—my favorite soporific—drone on in the background. An earnest young couple with a mind-blowing budget is searching for a house in an unnamed North American suburb. Their must-haves: open-concept living (does anyone enjoy living in rooms anymore?), a three-car garage, and above all a mudroom, because their three sons play hockey and have the heroic amounts of gear that kids lug …

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