Summerhouse Art & Architecture

The Summerhouse is constructed in the form of an open hexagon. The red brick used for its walls is laid in geometric and artistic patterns, forming volutes and other shapes, and taking on a "basket-weave" texture on the exterior walls on either side of each doorway. Some of the bricks have been carved or shaped to contribute to the design's overall effect. Arched doorways, each fitted with wrought-iron gates and flanked by small windows, occupy three of the building's six walls. Inside, stone benches with armrests alternate with the doorways and provide seating for 22 people; the benches are shaded and sheltered by projecting roofs of red Spanish mission tile. Above each bench is a large oval window flanked by decorative niches, each niche with a different design of intertwined scrollwork. Two of the three windows are filled by thick stone panels with octagonal perforations; the third, ornamented with a wrought-iron grille, affords a view into a small grotto, where a stream of water falls and splashes over the rocks. Each doorway offers a different view as well, one facing a tall hedge, one looking up at the Capitol, and one looking across the Capitol's west lawn toward the Mall. The fountain in the center of the building originally provided drinking water piped from a spring. The six small metal fittings around the fountain's upper perimeter secured chains that are believed to have held drinking cups or ladles. Three individual drinking fountains connected to the filtered city water supply now provide drinking water, and the central fountain is used only for display. The water supply for the grotto was originally provided by a runoff stream from a drinking fountain at the Capitol's west entrance. Later, a city-water stream was made to flow over the rocks.