Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

Lesson 2: How and Why Has the White House Changed?

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

The White House

The White House

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory

In preparation for the this lesson and activity, show students a picture of the White House as it looks today, such as this White House Drawing (or, if possible, White House Drawing: Higher Resolution) and compare it to the competition designs listed in the suggested activity.

Guiding Questions

What changes were made to the exterior and why?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson in the unit, students will be able to:

  • Discuss some of the changes the White House has undergone in more than two centuries.

Can students tell which was the winning design (James Hoban's design)? Can they see how Hoban's design is incorporated within the White House of today? The walls of the original structure are still in use.

One of the characteristics desired in the original White House design was expandability. Remember that the Advertisement for Best Design Competition on the White House Historical Association website, a link from the EDSITEment resource Explore DC, specified:

It will be a recommendation of any plan if the Central part of it may be detached and erected for the present with the appearance of a complete whole and be capable of admitting the additional parts in future, if they shall be wanting.

The President's house still contains Hoban's original structure, but there have been so many changes, it can be difficult to recognize. To show students the evolution of the White House, use (if possible) the An Historical Overview of the White House on the White House Historical Association website. If you cannot see the animation, the White House Historical Association also offers a series of architectural sketches showing the Evolution of the House in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Many of the changes made the White House more practical for the use of the President and the First Family (office space, living space, porch, and so on). Some changes were necessary structural changes. Other changes recognized specific needs (for more office space, for a more formal entry, for a bomb shelter during World War II, and so on) related to the evolving U.S. and its presidency.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the lesson. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. How and Why Has the White House Changed?

In preparation for the this lesson and activity, show students a picture of the White House as it looks today, such as this White House Drawing (or, if possible, White House Drawing: Higher Resolution) and compare it to the competition designs listed below.

Now share three of the original drawings submitted for the design of the President's house, available on the White House Historical Association website, a link from the EDSITEment resource Explore DC:

Can students tell which was the winning design (James Hoban's design)? Can they see how Hoban's design is incorporated within the White House of today? The walls of the original structure are still in use.

One of the characteristics desired in the original White House design was expandability. Remember that the Advertisement for Best Design Competition on the White House Historical Association website, a link from the EDSITEment resource Explore DC, specified:

It will be a recommendation of any plan if the Central part of it may be detached and erected for the present with the appearance of a complete whole and be capable of admitting the additional parts in future, if they shall be wanting.

The President's house still contains Hoban's original structure, but there have been so many changes, it can be difficult to recognize. To show students the evolution of the White House, use (if possible) the An Historical Overview of the White House on the White House Historical Association website. If you cannot see the animation, the White House Historical Association also offers a series of architectural sketches showing the Evolution of the House in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Many of the changes made the White House more practical for the use of the President and the First Family (office space, living space, porch, and so on). Some changes were necessary structural changes. Other changes recognized specific needs (for more office space, for a more formal entry, for a bomb shelter during World War II, and so on) related to the evolving U.S. and its presidency.

Now use the drawings and related information provided below to help students recognize how and why James Hoban's original building metamorphosed into the present-day White House. The dates listed correspond with the dates in the diagrams from the Evolution of the House in the 19th and 20th Centuries on the White House Historical Association website, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Explore DC. Begin with the 1800 diagram or the White House Sketch (circa 1800), also available on the White House Historical Association website. Use the guiding questions as desired. (NOTE: Unless otherwise specified, the information below comes from the White House Tour Overview on the White House Historical Association website.)

  • 1808
    • Information: Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) was the first President to spend his entire term in the White House. A creative architect himself, Jefferson designed two long colonnades connected to the house, which stretched to the east and west. These wings added office and storage space (From Lesson 3: Building the White House on the White House Historical Association website).
    • Question(s): What do Jefferson's changes indicate about the White House as he found it? What do the changes indicate about Jefferson?
  • 1824-1829
    • Additional graphic: The White House with Wings (Southwest view, circa 1834), White House Historical Association
    • Information: During President James Monroe's administration in 1824, Hoban completed the south portico. Double stairs curved up to a much-needed porch, and columns lent a vertical sweep to the architecture of the house. In 1829, Hoban started construction of the north portico and finished it a year later during the presidency of Andrew Jackson.
    • Question(s): Did the porticoes, porch, and/or stairs make the White House more practical? More imposing? What hypotheses about the U.S. could explain our ability and desire to make these expensive additions to the White House (national pride in favor of restoring and even improving the White House after it was burned by the British; an improving economy)?
  • 1857-1890
    • Information: President James Buchanan added a wooden greenhouse on the roof of the west terrace in 1857, adjacent to the State Dining Room. This simple structure burned in 1867 and was replaced by an iron and wood greenhouse twice as large as the earlier one. In the 1870s and 1880s, additional conservatories were added to the White House, including rose houses, a camellia house, orchid houses, and a house for bedding plants.
    • Question(s): Why would it be useful to have conservatories at the White House? What might the desire for conservatories indicate (more ceremonial activities; more visits from important dignitaries)?
  • 1909
    • Additional Graphic: Photograph and Information on the 1909 Renovation, White House Historical Association
    • Information: All the additional conservatories were removed to construct the Executive Office Building (the West Wing) in 1902 … In 1909, President Taft had the West Wing enlarged, adding the first Oval Office.
    • Question(s): What might be indicated about the U.S. government's executive branch that office space was needed (larger bureaucracy; executive branch gaining power)?
  • 1927
    • Information: President Calvin Coolidge builds a rooftop solarium to create private space, as a new roof is added and the old attic is turned into a full third floor (From PBS's Echoes From the White House, a link from the EDSITEment resource American Memory).
    • Question(s): What hypotheses about the U.S. could explain our ability and desire to make these expensive additions to the White House (a time of prosperity)?
  • 1942
    • Information: An East Wing office building is added to the east terrace, including a bomb shelter and movie theater (From Echoes From the White House).
    • Question(s): Why the need for additional office space? Why would a bomb shelter be built in 1942?

Classes benefiting from more extensive information on the evolution of the White House can read the complete White House Tour Overview on the White House Historical Association website, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Explore DC. If desired, students can also look at Changes in the White House, a richly illustrated timeline on the PBS website Echoes from the White House, a link from the EDSITEment resource American Memory, which shows and provides discussion of many of the events and changes that have affected the White House.

Assessment

Depending on how you have assigned the material provided in this lesson, individual students or groups of students should be able to answer the Guiding Questions provided with each image. After hearing each other's answers, students should be able to describe in general how and why the White House has changed over time.

The Basics

Time Required

1-2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Architecture
Skills
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Visual analysis
Authors
  • MMS (AL)

Resources

Media