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National Archives
National Archives

The 1949 Renovation of the White House

National Archives
National Archives

While we will never get an accurate view of what the White House looked like when it was originally under construction in the 1800s, we can at least get a good look at the building while it was undergoing renovations in 1949.

It's easy to assume that such an important national landmark would always be well taken care of, but after it was burned by the British in 1814, and received small adaptions to incorporate indoor plumbing, electricity, and heating ducts as technology improved, the 150-year-old White House had seriously deteriorated by the time Harry Truman took office.

According to the New York Times, the building was in pretty bad shape:

"The ceiling of the East Room ... weighing seventy pounds to the square foot, was found to be sagging six inches on Oct. 26, and now is being held in place by scaffolding and supports. ...But it took the $50,000 survey authorized by Congress to disclose the fact that the marble grand staircase is in imminent danger. Supporting bricks, bought second hand in 1880, are disintegrating."

The third floor of the White House was considered a fire trap and many parts of the building were at risk of collapsing, so all social events scheduled for the 1948 holiday season were cancelled. Meanwhile, those living in the building had to deal with the building's makeshift plumbing system.

Things were so bad that Congress was discussing building an entirely new structure and destroying the existing White House. Fortunately, Truman pushed hard to have the building restored instead. “It perhaps would be more economical from a purely financial standpoint to raze the building and to rebuild completely,” he testified to Congress in February 1949. “In doing so, however, there would be destroyed a building of tremendous historical significance in the growth of the nation.” 

Finally, those involved agreed to restore the building, but the process was not easy. Every piece of the interior structure, including the walls, had to be removed and put in storage while the exterior structure was reinforced with new concrete columns.

All photos from the National Archives via the Truman Library and NationalJournal.com.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Buckingham Palace Was Built With Jurassic Fossils, Scientists Find
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iStock

The UK's Buckingham Palace is a vestige from another era, and not just because it was built in the early 18th century. According to a new study, the limestone used to construct it is filled with the fossilized remains of microbes from the Jurassic period of 200 million years ago, as The Telegraph reports.

The palace is made of oolitic limestone, which consists of individual balls of carbonate sediment called ooids. The material is strong but lightweight, and is found worldwide. Jurassic oolite has been used to construct numerous famous buildings, from those in the British city of Bath to the Empire State Building and the Pentagon.

A new study from Australian National University published in Scientific Reports found that the spherical ooids in Buckingham Palace's walls are made up of layers and layers of mineralized microbes. Inspired by a mathematical model from the 1970s for predicting the growth of brain tumors, the researchers created a model that explains how ooids are created and predicts the factors that limit their ultimate size.

A hand holding a chunk of oolite limestone
Australian National University

They found that the mineralization of the microbes forms the central core of the ooid, and the layers of sediment that gather around that core feed those microbes until the nutrients can no longer reach the core from the outermost layer.

This contrasts with previous research on how ooids form, which hypothesized that they are the result of sediment gathered from rolling on the ocean floor. It also reshapes how we think about the buildings made out of oolitic limestone from this period. Next time you look up at the Empire State Building or Buckingham Palace, thank the ancient microbes.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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architecture
5 Scrapped Designs for the World's Most Famous Buildings
Ker Robertson, Getty Images
Ker Robertson, Getty Images

When an architect gets commissioned to build a skyscraper or a memorial, they’re usually not the only applicant for the job. Other teams of designers submit their own ideas for how it should look, too, but these are eventually passed over in favor of the final design. This is the case for some of the world’s most recognizable landmarks—in an alternate world, the Arc de Triomphe might have been a three-story-tall elephant statue, and the Lincoln Memorial a step pyramid.

GoCompare, a comparison site for financial services, dug into these could-have-been designs for Alternate Architecture, an illustrated collection of scrapped designs for some of the most famous structures in the world, from Chicago's Tribune Tower to the Sydney Opera House.

Click through the interactive graphic below to explore rejected designs for all five landmarks.

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