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Thornton, William

Thornton, William (1759–1828). Born in the British West Indies, he studied medicine at Edinburgh and became an American citizen in 1788. He designed the Library Company Building, Philadelphia, PA (1789–90—destroyed), based on a plate in volume 2 of Abraham Swan's (fl.1745–c.1770) Collection of Designs in Architecture (1757), and in 1792 prepared drawings for the competition to design the US Capitol in Washington, DC, loosely based on plates in Colen Campbell's Vitruvius Britannicus (1715–25). His second design, drawn up (rather unsportingly) after he had been able to peruse some of the entries and submitted after the deadline, was accepted in 1793, but, having major flaws as a realizable proposition, was revised by Hallet, who changed Thorn-ton's plans to conform more to his own ideas. Thornton again produced a third design in 1795 when Hadfield was dismissed as supervising architect, and it is that which forms the basis of the final version, with the central pedimented portico and rather French Louis Quinze elevations (although the Capitol went through several further transformations in the course of its history). He designed the Octagon, a town-house in Washington (1797–1800—which, like his Capitol designs, demonstrates his fascination for elliptical and circular interior spaces), and also a house at Tudor Place, Georgetown, Washington (c.1805–10, probably his best work, perhaps influenced by a design by Soane in New Vitruvius Britannicus (1802–3) ). He also designed Pavilion VII, University of Virginia, Charlottesville (1817–21). See also bulfinch, hoban, latrobe, and walter.

Bibliography

G. Brown (1970);
Dictionary of American Biography (1936);
C. Harris (ed.) (1995);
B. Jenkins (1982);
McCue (1976);
Maddex (1973);
C. Peterson (ed.) (1976);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Reiff (1977);
Stearns & Yerkes (eds.) (1976);
Jane Turner (1996)

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Thornton, William

William Thornton, 1759–1828, American architect, b. Tortola, British Virgin Islands, He studied (1781–84) medicine at Edinburgh but received his medical degree (1784) at the Univ. of Aberdeen. In 1787 he emigrated to the United States and became a citizen in 1788. His plan for the Library Company in Philadelphia won a competition in 1789. Through Trumbull, the painter, he gained permission to submit a plan for the proposed Capitol at Washington in an official competition opened in 1792. Thornton's designs, submitted in 1793, were approved by President Washington, and their execution was entrusted to the supervision of E. S. Hallet and James Hoban. In 1794, however, Thornton himself, being appointed a commissioner of the District of Columbia, became supervisor and remained in charge until 1802. Despite important changes and additions, especially by Latrobe and Bullfinch, much of the design of the facade of the central portion of the Capitol is his. In Washington he also designed a number of residences, including the Tayloe house, known as the Octagon, later the headquarters of the American Institute of Architects. Thornton was the first to hold the post of clerk in charge of the Patent Office, and he served as commissioner of patents from 1802 until his death.

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