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Brunel's Capitol US design will sell in London auction

  • Engineer Marc Isambard Brunel's submitted a design for the US Capitol building
  • His design has been revealed after being in family archives for over 150 years
  • Brunel submitted his plans to a committee which was appointed to choose the design for the Capitol Hill building in 1794, but his design was rejected
  • The committee instead chose an entry from amateur architect William Thornton
  • Brunel returned to England, where he designed the Thames Tunnel in London
  • Brunel, who died in 1849, is the father of the famed Isambard Kingdom Brunel

By Kelly Mclaughlin For Mailonline

Published: 08:02 EST, 14 November 2017 | Updated: 09:10 EST, 14 November 2017

Famed engineer Marc Isambard Brunel lost a bid to design the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, 224 years ago.

Now, his design has been revealed after being tucked away in a large album in the Brunel family archive for more than 150 years.

The drawing is tipped to sell at the auction in London on Wednesday for $19,600 (£15,000).

Brunel, who went on to design the Thames Tunnel in London and was the father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, submitted his plans to a committee which was appointed to choose the design for the Capitol Hill building in 1793.

His design was submitted shortly after he arrived in the United States as a Normandy refugee of the French Revolution. 

Famed British engineer Marc Isambard Brunel's failed design for the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, has been revealed after being tucked away in family archives for 150 years. The design is pictured above
Famed British engineer Marc Isambard Brunel's failed design for the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, has been revealed after being tucked away in family archives for 150 years. The design is pictured above

Famed British engineer Marc Isambard Brunel's failed design for the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, has been revealed after being tucked away in family archives for 150 years. The design is pictured above

Brunel submitted his plans to a committee which was appointed to choose the design for the Capitol Hill building in 1793
Brunel submitted his plans to a committee which was appointed to choose the design for the Capitol Hill building in 1793
But Brunel's plan for Congress was rejected, and the committee instead favored an entry from amateur architect William Thornton
But Brunel's plan for Congress was rejected, and the committee instead favored an entry from amateur architect William Thornton

Brunel (left) submitted his plans to a committee which was appointed to choose the design for the Capitol Hill building in 1793. But Brunel's plan for Congress was rejected, and the committee instead favored an entry from amateur architect William Thornton (right)

Thornton's design - inspired by the Louvre and the Paris Pantheon - was praised by Washington for its 'grandeur, simplicity, and beauty'. His submitted design, pictured above, evolved over the years into what the Capitol looks like today
Thornton's design - inspired by the Louvre and the Paris Pantheon - was praised by Washington for its 'grandeur, simplicity, and beauty'. His submitted design, pictured above, evolved over the years into what the Capitol looks like today

Thornton's design - inspired by the Louvre and the Paris Pantheon - was praised by Washington for its 'grandeur, simplicity, and beauty'. His submitted design, pictured above, evolved over the years into what the Capitol looks like today

His vision included a small figure similar to New York's Statue of Liberty - which would not be built for another 92 years - on top the two-tiered building. 

The design included statues of Fame and Mercury at each end of the building, and a statue of a victorious commander upon his horse, possibly then-President George Washington, in the center.

But Brunel's plan for Congress was rejected, and the committee instead favored an entry from amateur architect William Thornton, who pocketed a $500 prize for his winning submission.

Thornton's design - inspired by the Louvre and the Paris Pantheon - was praised by Washington for its 'grandeur, simplicity, and beauty'.

A snubbed Brunel believed his design was rejected because it was too expensive and felt the decision 'robbed the nation of a noble structure worthy of its greatness'.

A drawing of his historic design, which has been held in Brunel family archives for more than 150 years, has now emerged for an auction in London.  

A snubbed Brunel believed his design was rejected because it was too expensive. Pictured above is a recent photo of the US Capitol
A snubbed Brunel believed his design was rejected because it was too expensive. Pictured above is a recent photo of the US Capitol

A snubbed Brunel believed his design was rejected because it was too expensive. Pictured above is a recent photo of the US Capitol

Simon Roberts, specialist at Bonhams, of London, who are selling the plans, said: 'These plans show Capitol Hill as it might have been with Brunel's visionary design for one of the most important buildings in terms of politics and symbolism on the planet.

Brunel was the father of famed engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who designed the Great Western Railway 
Brunel was the father of famed engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who designed the Great Western Railway 

Brunel was the father of famed engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who designed the Great Western Railway 

'Just as William Thornton had submitted his winning design after the closing date of the competition, perhaps Brunel thought he stood a chance of having his design accepted instead.

'A lot of people would say Brunel's version was nicer than the one that was actually built.' 

The Capitol Hill building was completed in 1800. In the mid 19th Century, a massive dome was added to it which dominates its facade today.

Brunel stayed in the United States for five years, and took American citizenship in 1796. 

While there, he was appointed Chief Engineer of New York City and designed a number of houses, docks and commercial buildings. 

No official records exist of his New York projects, but it is believed they were destroyed in the Draft Riots of 1863. 

After five years in the United States, Brunel traveled back across the Atlantic to make his life in England. 

Back in London, Brunel designed the 1,300ft-long Thames Tunnel connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping in east London.

Back in London, Brunel designed the 1,300ft-long Thames Tunnel (pictured) connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping in east London
Back in London, Brunel designed the 1,300ft-long Thames Tunnel (pictured) connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping in east London

Back in London, Brunel designed the 1,300ft-long Thames Tunnel (pictured) connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping in east London

His son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was a 19-year-old assistant engineer at the time who was involved in the project.

Work on the tunnel, which was 35ft wide, 20ft high and 75ft below the river, got underway in 1825.

In the decades after the Thames Tunnel was completed, the Tower Subway in London, the Severn Tunnel under the River Severn and the Mersey Railway Tunnel under the River Mersey were constructed replicating Marc Brunel's methods.

Brunel's son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, went on to achieve even greater fame than his father.

He was responsible for building over 25 railway lines, more than 100 bridges, eight piers and docks, and three enormous steamships.

He constructed the Great Western Railway, linking London to Bristol, built the famous Bristol Meads Station, and designed five revolutionary suspension bridges including the Clifton Suspension Bridge over the River Avon.

While he is best known for his work on the railways, he was also an accomplished ship builder.


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