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Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Symbolism Used in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Architects and designers have traditionally used symbolism or iconography to convey a sense of meaning to the buildings they design. Many of these symbols have been used for centuries, sometimes representing different ideas. Symbolism found within the EEOB can tell us what the architects and designers hoped to express as well as give us information about the aspirations of the building occupants.

One notable trend between the two principal designers of the EEOB is that Alfred Mullett and Richard Ezdorf used common heraldic symbols to impart additional meaning to the interior. Since Ezdorf’s work is visible in three of the four wings, some might think he was more prolific in his use of symbols than Mullett; however, Mullett’s design work was limited to the interior of the south wing and is more subtle than Ezdorf. Had Mullett continued his role as the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, who can say what he would have done in the other wings? In the end, the selected motifs were particularly appropriate for the department libraries shown by the symbols and meanings outlined below

Room 308 – The EOP Library formerly the State Department Library

Mullett’s choice of decorative motifs for the library of the Department of State refers to the Department’s enduring diplomacy, peacekeeping, and protective nature. Over time; however, the symbolism has been forgotten because the references are too subtle.

Berries: represent liberality, felicity, and peace (floor tiles)
Eagle with wings displayed: protector of noble nature, strength, bravery, and alertness
Escarbuncle: supremacy (eight-spoked wheel in balustrade railings)
Fox: One who will use all that they may possess of wisdom and wit in their own defense (clock base)
Greek key pattern: enduring constancy (floor tiles, walls, door and window trim, cove ceiling)
Ivy leaves: strong and lasting friendship (in arches over balcony doorways)
Lilies: purity (cornice decoration beneath balcony)
Palm leaves or Palmette pattern: symbol of victory and of peace (floor tiles, railings, walls, cove ceiling)
Rose: hope and joy (floor tiles)
Square symbols or patterns: constancy (floor tiles, railings, ceilings)
State Department shield: defender (in corner of balustrade railings)
Vines: strong and lasting friendship (floor tiles)
Wheel: fortune and/or cycle of life (balustrade railings)

Room 474 – The Indian Treaty Room formerly the Navy Department Library

Motifs used by Ezdorf in the Navy Department library include overt nautical symbols to represent the Navy Department’s occupancy of the room. Even the colored marble panels have special meaning.

Anchor: steadfastness (upper balcony walls and overmantle in room 274)
Azure (blue): truth and loyalty (floor tiles)
Cherubs: dignity (corner light fixtures)
Compass: direction (pattern in center of floor)
Dolphin: considered King of the fish, attribute of the Roman sea god; meaning swiftness (pilaster capitals and floor tiles)
Female heads: honor (over balcony windows)
Gold: generosity and elevation of the mind (gilded surfaces throughout)
Greek cross: faith (floor tiles)
Greek key pattern: enduring constancy (floor tiles, walls, door and window trim, cove ceiling)
Green: hope and joy (marble wall panels)
Maroon: patient in battle, and yet victorious (marble wall panels)
Mermaid tails: eloquence (corner light fixtures)
Oars: associated with the river god (door pediment in hall)
Palm leaves or Palmette pattern: symbol of victory and of peace (floor tiles, walls, cornice)
Quatrefoil: good tidings (floor tiles)
Scallop shell: traveler to far places or victorious naval command
Sea horse: power of the water (balcony railing)
Six-pointed stars: goodness (cornice)
Square symbols or patterns: constancy (floor tiles, railings, ceilings)
Trefoil or shamrock: perpetuity (cornice)
Trident: Three-pronged fork is attribute of the sea god meaning maritime dominion (pilaster capitals)
Trophy: celebration of military victory (door pediment in hall)
Wreath: poetic achievement, a popular ornament of academic institutions (door pediment in hall)

Room 528 – The EOP Law Library formerly the War Department Library

For the War Department’s library, Ezdorf reverts to decorative motifs whose symbolism has since been forgotten, but collectively represents a military might that sustains peace and safeguards the knowledge of antiquity.

Acorn: strength (cove ceiling)
Butterfly: immortality (floor tiles)
Caduceus: the winged staff with two serpents is linked with the Roman deity Mercury who is credited with inventing the alphabet; eloquence and reason; attribute of “peace personified” (book shelf panels)
Laurel leaves: triumph, glory, and/or victory (balcony columns)
Oak leaves: great strength, steadfastness, civic virtue (cove ceiling)
Salamanders: protection, bravery, and/or courage (bookshelf panels)

Other symbols used in the building

Fasces: judicious authority (stair railing balusters)
Griffin: valor, death defying bravery, or vigilance (West Rotunda)
Maidens holding panpipe (musical instrument) and tambourine: festivity and rejoicing (East Rotunda)
Sextant: symbol of navigation (overmantle mirror in room 274)
Telescope: symbol of navigation (overmantle mirror in room 274)

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