Mark McInturff’s Classic Modernism

Earlier this spring, The DC chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art hosted a lecture by an unlikely acolyte—the modernist architect Mark McInturff, whose work looks like this:

Allee House 02 9698 Dusk Entry side sm email

All McInturff photography by Julia Heine

“ICAA is not just a bunch of column huggers,” architect Ankie Barnes, the chapter president, told a chuckling crowd. “Mark McInturff if the perfect ambassador to focus on excellence in design.”

McInturff started his talk by quoting the great modernist Philip Johnson: “You cannot not know history.” That guiding principal, he said, “has been incredibly critical for my career.”

He then went on to explain, point by point, how his ultra modern work is solidly rooted in classical design.

The Capital City

Take Pierre L’Enfant’s famous plan for Washington, he said. “This is the best plan ever made for a city on this planet.”


“No other city combines both linear, orthogonal geometry and diagonal, radial geometry,” he said.

McInturff took L’Enfant’s concept of grids and diagonals into a house he designed in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, which enjoys broad views of marshland and water. “It’s the combination of those two geometries—Washington geometries—that gave us the key there.”

1710 rear afternoon lecture 1st pass sm email

Like the city itself, which is bordered by two branches of the river, this house starts at a single point and radiates outward.

Porch Vert out to marsh 1898 1st pass sm email


The City as a House

McInturff has also reached back to the Renaissance teachings of  Leon Battista Alberti, who said “The city is like a great house, and the house, in its turn, a small city.”

George Washington’s Mount Vernon is such an example, McInturff points out, with its classic “dogtrot” design:


Like a city, large central throughways are marked by both major and minor rooms—think Pennsylvania Avenue and Lafayette Square.


McInturff applied this concept of alignment to a house near Virginia’s Rappahannock River. It doesn’t look like Mount Vernon, does it?

Dogtrot 7496 Entry Facade web

But it acts like Mount Vernon, with its large “dogtrot” running between the main house and a guest wing. And like the central hall at Mount Vernon, it leads to a perpendicular terrace that runs the width of the structure on the other side.

7474 porch from back web


The Allee

For this other house in the country, McInturff went back to old, French farms in Normandy, which are reached by long allees that run right under the their arches. This approach below illustrates that concept:

Allee House 6777 Allee from road sm email

He calls this design “route building.” But here, you’re not arriving at a chateau—in the traditional sense, at least.

Allee House 04 7373 Porch sm email


Allee House 0644 Tractor dusk sm email


Embracing Structure

McInturff then asked his audience to think about some of the great icons of architecture: Notre Dame; the Parthenon—even Johnson’s Glass House. “Every one of those buildings are about what’s holding them up,” he said. “It’s all about structure.” Like musical notes, columns and beams march across a space and give it rhythm.

The architect applied that rhythm in his own house:

9089 LR DR PM sm web

“The architecture of this room is the structure of this room. Otherwise, it’s a view to the water,” McInturff says of his weekend shore house.

For another design, he channeled Le Corbusier as he stretched a house across a valley. Steel columns march down the space every 16 feet.

6044 Dusk Whole House from right sm email

In a sense, he said, the design scheme is similar to Notre Dame. “It’s a series of cellular moves.”

3461 big interior from door fire sm web

I don’t think I’ll ever look at modern architecture quite the same way again. Just as the etchings on the National Archives state, past is truly prologue here, but in a manner that is utterly of the moment.

I particularly love how McInturff keeps coming back to the design principles that are so prevalent in classical DC architecture. “I feel like Washington is part of me,” he said. “We are where we are, and everything has an internal landscape, and this is mine.”


  1. Jennifer Sergent says:

    Well put, Joan! I totally agree.

  2. Joan Wetmore says:

    It’s so interesting to see how this architect’s mind works! His houses have roots in the past that ensures their enduring appeal.