“The architect models in space as a sculptor in clay.” Geoffrey Scott, The Architecture of Humanism

Approaching the main house on her way to the drawing room, a visitor in the 1760’s would be struck by the disciplined symmetry of the façade and skillful use of the classical orders. Perhaps the similarity to several buildings in town, whether recently completed or existing only as engraved prints, would be noted.

East facade of Mount Pleasant, 1762-1765. January, 2010.

“A South East Prospect of Pennsylvania Hospital” by Henry Dawkins and John Sleeper, 1761. Construction began in 1755 but due to lack of space and funds only the east wing was completed at the time this print was initially offered for sale in 1761. Construction was not begun on the central and west wings until 1793. The central wing, which would have born a striking similarity to Mount Pleasant, was redesigned in the neoclassical style in the early 1790’s.

Paul Goldberger says “we talk about facades in terms of how they look; we talk about spaces in terms of how they feel.” The combined depth of the columns and rusticated door frame, the heavily moulded arch and large keystone above and the low height of the door create the sensation of moving through a short, low tunnel. This feeling of compression makes moving from the great expanse of the exterior landscape to the hall beyond the door more dramatic than it would be if you entered through the type of tall door commonly seen in town houses, where a vestibule often served as a transitional space.

East entrance. November, 2010.

The hall is dimly lit but the staircase on the left of the door, set off by full height fluted pilasters, is brightly illuminated by four large sash windows.

Mount Pleasant first story hall. August, 2010.

Mount Pleasant staircase. August, 2010.

Moving up the first flight of stairs to the landing creates a similar sensation of compression as you pass between the columns and close to the first story ceiling. Making a complete turn on the natural resting-place of the landing you get your first glimpse of the carved Ionic capitals on the full height fluted columns framing the staircase as the second story hall stunningly opens up in front of you.

Mount Pleasant, view from the staircase landing. September, 2009.

Mount Pleasant, second story hall and staircase. July, 2009.

Past the columns you experience the interior counterpart of the Venetian window of the facade brightly illuminating the hall in stark contrast to the low light levels of the first story. The interior spaces have been unfolding in stages, how we gradually experience these spaces over time is different than the immediacy with which we observed the façade.

Mount Pleasant, east Venetian window at sunset. January, 2010.

Proceeding to the drawing room at the end of the hall you pass another Venetian window identical to the window by the stair. You may have sensed yourself tracing a spiral as you moved through the house, the twist at the bottom of the stair railing and the volutes of the Ionic capitals throughout the second story hall materially reinforcing your physical sensation.

Mount Pleasant second story hall. July, 2009.

Mount Pleasant, entrance to the drawing room. February, 2010.

The drawing room was meant to impress. Raking light from two large windows defines the carving of chimneypiece, door brackets and keystones on the south wall. Moving into the room and turning around you would notice the four large carved brackets on the door to the hall and the fixed door placed for symmetry beside it on the north wall. Through the windows you could view the natural landscape of the terraced garden and the river beyond. The full cupboard to the right of the chimneypiece has shaped shelves, plate grooves, and curving balustrades that would be used for the display and storage of silver or ceramic objects for tea and coffee service.

Mount Pleasant drawing room, south wall and chimneypiece and cupboards. July, 2009.

Mount Pleasant, north wall of the drawing room. You enter through the door on the left, the door on the right is fixed in place. July, 2009.

No inventories of furnishings are known to exist for Mount Pleasant during the Macpherson’s occupancy but one of the last charges Nevell made for work at Mount Pleasant was for hanging four looking glasses.

Thoms Nevell account book, entry for May 10, 1765

Is it reasonable to suppose at least one was hung in the tall, rectangular tabernacle frame of the chimneypiece reflecting the ornamented door you entered? Might there have been a looking glass hung between the doors on the wall opposite reflecting the chimneypiece? To date, none of the twentieth century furnishing plans has “reflected” this idea.

2 thoughts on ““The architect models in space as a sculptor in clay.” Geoffrey Scott, The Architecture of Humanism

  1. Thanks for this beautiful blog about an American treasure. I begin reading, thinking I could offer you my photos of Mt. Pleasant; quickly I saw the high quality photos you are doing and don’t think you need my help.

    I hope you are thinking about all this going into a book on Mt Pleasant.

  2. Thanks so much.

    On the contrary, I want to look at the photos you made before I started working on the project. Images made over time are important and you remind me to include the date on the images I’ve made that are included here.

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