A Critique of Nicholas Mann's's Book
" The Sacred Geometry of Washington, D.C."

posted 12-26-2007


There is so much to say about Mann's book that I have provided a seperate section here for examining that, just like I did for David Ovason's book "Secret Architecture of Our Nation's Capital". Please note that Mann, like Ovason, belongs to the 'Ellicott made changes to the L'Enfant map' school of thinking, but for different reasons; Ovason's intent is to tear L'Enfant down, while Mann's is to build him up. For Ovason, the changes to the map (supposedly made by Ellicott) were improvements while for Mann they were destructive. As a matter of fact, Mann is enamored of L'Enfant and what he sees as his inspired original design for the Washington, DC map.

[You will note that the term 'original' is used here in two senses- one meaning L'Enfant's first draft of the planning map and the other meaning not an imitation of something else. L'Enfant is quoted as having said, "I would reprobate the idea of imitating", after Jefferson presented him with maps of various existing cities to study. Mann focuses his analysis on what he considers to be the earliest existing copy of the plan produced by L'Enfant which he contends is a wholly new one- that is, an original concept.]

  • His thesis is that the original design of the US Capital (the first one) was shaped by the principles of sacred geometry and incorporated a system of number and geometric proportion used in temples and cities of civilizations in the past. In terms of the map he is essentially talking about a pentagram inscribed within a circle seen as the embodiment of the phi ratio. The crossing lines of a pentagram make line segments that are related to one another in the phi ratio. He argues that, "The dominant symbol that emerges from the underlying geometry of the L'Enfant Plan is the pentacle". (p 175) He also mentions an equilateral triangle. (p 113)

  • Mann's thesis is a dual assertion that 1) there is a system of geoemtric proportion that was used in temples and cities of the past, and 2) the same system is incorporated in the DC map; actually just the first draft. This is not to suggest that any of those cities or temples featured pentagonal shapes, because that is just one way to arrive at the Golden Section. Unfortunately, the book never looks closely at the assertion that temples and cities in the past have incorporated this geometry.

    * If you didn't read anything else about Mann's work, you might be lead to believe that he and I are describing the same system, but we are not. The following is intended to spell out where we differ and to critique the book in general.

    The history of the map as I know it is as follows: Washington chose the location and he and Jefferson decided on an oblique square shape for the 10 by 10 mile bounrary of the district. Ellicott was sent in in February to 'stake the corners'. Washington meets with Ellicott and L'Enfant on site in March and looks at the area with them. L'Enfant presents a report and map in June and a revised one in August. Since he never produced a useable map with lot number and street names Ellicott was given that job. His map is essentially L'Enfant's first map with the streets change a little bit, but the changes had been made in the August drawing.

    [If you intend to study the DC map development closely you will want to get copies of those three map from the Library of Congress map collection. Some are JPEGS while some are in a format that requires you to download a viwer, but it is worth the time. The images that you can get from the LOC are very large and are not compressed. I also recommend that you get a copy of a Rand_McNalley road map at Books-a-Million so you can see the current configuration of the DC landscape.]

  • Looking at the three maps mentioned you can see that the August 'dotted line' map and the 1792 Ellicott map match the current configuration but that the June map does not. This is the map that Washington pointed out was a first draft and that there would be fewer diagonals in the finished product. The August map is a revision of this map. If you look at the dotted line map and the Ellicott maps you can see that there are indeed fewer diagonals, and that Mass Ave has been straightened. Mann confines his analysis to the version of the plan that was rejected and never used.

    He puts L'Enfant and this first plan on a pedestal together, and considers any move away from this first plan to be a descent into chaos metaphorically. Mann is very metaphorical. When he is confronted with the fact that the August report and map from L'Enfant to Washington mentions that it was altered as to his directions, Mann proclaims that L'Enfant was coerced into changing the first plan, which was the best ever. He refuses to see the changes that were made to the first draft as improvements. He is Real Concerned about what north south street you call the grand meridian of the city and the nation. Mann argues that a meridian centered on the CB symbolically favors democracy while one centered on the WH favored the office of the President. If you look, the WH faces the North Star and the noon sun, while the CB faces the rising and setting sun; 16th Street is the perfect meridian line.

    The geometry of Mann's template depends on Mass avenue

    In the image above, which is my version of Mann's template, you can see that he depends heavily on Mass Ave (the longest red line) as a regulating line. Mass Ave does not run the full length of the red line, but bends along the path of the blue line in the right side of the map. The blue section of Mass Ave is the diameter of the large circle, and the projection of the red section onto the circle provides two sides of the pentagram. Two of his points fall where the avenue bends. If you look at the current configuration you will see that Mass Ave is completely realigned and that the image above does not work after August 1791.

    Mass Ave is straightened in the March 1792 map

    Mann claims that "it is still true that the City of Washington was planned according to the 'traditions of scared geometry'; thankfully much of the original design can be seen there today", because he says that the Golden Section ratios between the CB, the Mile Column and the White House survived. What he means is that the blue dots above are located at .618 and 1.0 miles from the CB (give or take 20 yards in a mile) even after the map was rearranged in August. That means that, eventhough the pentagrams no longer work on East Capitol Street, there are still three points that are at phi distances from one another somewhere in the map. He does not pursue that.

  • My first objection to Mann's book is that he restricts his analysis to the rejected map and he doesn't deal adequately with the current map configuration; also that he never looks closely at the assertion that temples and cities in the past have incorporated this geometry. Working as a surveyor, I have to say something about his precision that he claims, 'twenty yards in a mile', which is two thirds of a degree of arc.

    While Mann's thesis depends on there being monuments or squares .618 and 1.0 miles from the CB, he admits that when he uses the scale on L'Enfant's map to guage his work, "the distances come out too short". (p 132) Mann's solution to why the map scale does not fit his theory is that the scale was 'inaccurately drawn' and that "L'Enfant's drawing was never intended for serious draftsmanship, only as a guide for the President.

    This, of course can be easily tested by overlaying the map that Mann uses with the 1792 Ellicott maps, a later map or the current one. If several points are the same we can conclude that the map was accurate. (see http://dcsymbols.com/ovason/two_maps.htm )


    As I pointed out, Mann is focused on the figure of L'Enfant and his first draft of the planning map, which he says was devised according to the methods of 'traditional architecture' based on sacred geometry; even though, as he points out, "L'Enfant makes no mention, in any surviving document, about traditional and geometric symbolism". (p 156) As a matter of fact, L'Enfant chose to keep the 'governing geometric principles' of the map design secret. (p vii) According to Mann, "The genius of L'Enfant was due to the fact that he founded the City of Washington upon this geometrical template without ever providing a clear explanation of what he was doing". (14) [It appears that Mann completely misses the point of symbolism where one does not explain, but rather obscures the meaning to outsiders.]

    This means that Mann is not basing his thesis on anything that L'Enfant has written about the geometry. At times he presents a considerably weaker arguement:

    "I believe that he was aware of this canonical tradition of sacred geometry and that it informed his actions, but that he was reluctant for whatever reason to make it's use explicit." p 166 "There are clear indications that L'Enfant could never had made his use of the Golden Section explicit, given it's symbolic and mystical connotations." p 174

    In relationship to the notion of originality, the book points out that there is no evidence that 1) "L'Enfant followed any existing architectural template in his geometrical design for the City"... 2) "that he derived his plan from a specific system of occult knowledge such as Freemasonry".. or 3) that the architectural ideas in his design derived from an occult geometric system that was passed on to him by the Freemasons. (p 57) Surely the notion that the lines of a pentagram are in the phi relationship to one another didn't occur to L'Enfant out of the blue as we say.

    "He imposed no grid or preconceived mental order on the landscape." (159) "L'E was not a pragmatic city planner, flattening and throwing a fixed plan, a gridiron, onto the ground regardless of its character." 66 This implies that the design was unique to this location. Mann refers to L'Enfant as a geomancer.

    "Nowhere in any of his writings does L'Enfant say he applied predetermined geometrical principles , or any religous , Masonic or classical ideas or that he favored any existing city plan, or any specific metaphysical point of view." (p 159) He never wrote about geometry or metaphysics but from looking at his first draft of the map plan Mann can tell that:

    "By placing the Capitol on primary axes in the center of the plan, and relating to all the other key buildings to this site in a ratio that is fundamental to the structures of the natural world, L'Enfant gave formal visible expression to the all-powerful central and representative qualities of the Legislature and its generative position in the New World order." That sounds pretty metaphysical to me- but again, that's Mann and not L'Enfant writing. The implication is that the Legislature is favored over the Presidency by the placement of the CB at the 'center' of the map, and that the distances between all other key buildings and the CB form line segements in the phi ratio to one another.

    See the image at the top of the page, which is my attempt to illustrate the first steps in Mann's template, and rememeber that he is working with L'Enfant's first draft of the map which does not represent the current configuration of the landscape of the city. Changes that were made to that earliest map were incorporated into the maps that Ellicott produced in 1792. The biggest change can be seen in the straightening of Mass. Avenue which, of course, destroys the pentagonal geometric relationships that Mann points out.

    Metatron's Cube

    Metatron's Cube in blue the Tree in red

  • For those of you who haven't read my own thesis, I will note that I recommend that both the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and Metatron's Cube are depicted in the DC landscape, that the Scottish Rites House of the Temple occupies the position of sphere one on the tree in the map, and that the Kabbalah is embraced by the Scottish Rites which essentially dates from 1801 in the US. The book puts forth the argument that features in the map like the HOT, the Washington Monument and the Pentagon Building could not be related to L'Enfant's plan due to the time seperation between the them. I suggest that the plan was a long range one and that latter phases were never fully unveiled to the public.

    If you are familiar with Metatron's Cube you know that it consists of either three crossing axes or six rays radiating from a central point. There are six points around the center, then six more around those for a total of thirteen. In describing how traditional architects 'did it', the book suggest a ceremonial approach which included marking the center point, then the boundary, then the directions. We are reminded of the Cartesian grid system and the six directions in space which Metatron's Cube depicts. On page 23 he proclaims that the architects at DC did not follow a six-fold scheme, right next to an image of Metatron's Cube.

    If you look at the map, you will note that 16th Street is the vertical axis, and that at the White House Pennsylvania Avenue provides one diagonal and New York provides the other. Along Penn Ave we see, Georgetown, Washington Cr, the WH, the National Archives Bldg, and the Capitol Building. There are no monuments yet at the NE and SW corners of the map cube. The cube is shortened like the other elements in the map as explained on my site.

    So, if you can see Metatron's Cube and the Tree of Life in the map, and know that the last sphere on the tree, the Jefferson Memorial at sphere 10, wasn't completed until 1943, then you are drawn to the conclusion that someone knowledgeable of the Kabbalah may have had something to do with the execution of this plan. You note that the same architect designed the last three spheres on the tree to be completed, the Jeff Mml, the Archives and the HOT at the top of the tree, the Kabbalists. (Nudge Nude Wink Wink) After researching the issue Mann came to the conclusion that the HOT and it's location have no bearing on the L'Enfant plan, mainly because it was built so late in the game. On page 181 he concludes that Masons were more interested in purpsuing mutually supportive buisness interests than in pursuing esoteric architectural symbolism. The implication here is that it is good enough for 'traditional' architects and L'Enfant but Masons wouldn't have the time for it for over 200 hundred years.

    The Capitol Building

    The book recommends that 'the plan' was intended to center on the Capitol Building. Instead of a 2D six-fold axis, it is suggested that the vertical axis was represented by the Capitol Dome, which hadn't been designed yet when the planning map was produced. An analogy to the cathedrals is mentioned. But if you look at the depiction of the cube or any DC map, you can see that Pennsylvania Avenue has a bend in it, so that it is north of the position that it 'should' be in. We judge this by the full length of Penn Ave from Georgetown to the East Branch. If the CB had been 600 feet south PA would have been a straight line from GT to EB and it would match the corner in the map cube. It appears as if this part of the map centers on the WH and that the CB is actually displaced from it's ideal position.

    David Ovason claims that the bend was designed on purpose to catch one sunset in August, but the sun also sets there in May and he never mentions that. To Mann, the bend shows that the plan was "a work in progress... as a preliminary draft this sole surviving version of L'Enfant's Plan was not intended to be accurate and adjustments were made to it." His solution to straightening PA is to move the WH north? Notice that this does not take into account the entire avenue.(P 111)

    The Triangle

    Looking at the area of the map above the White House we can see a pentagram, a goat's head, the pharoah's head, and we can see one side of an isoceles triangle. There is no street representing the right side of the triangle, but if we draw a line from the point thru the circle and the square we meet the lower right hand corner of the map cube, below the CB. This triangle helps confirm the ideal location of the Capitol Building on a straightened PA. The triangle that the book focuses on is the one with the point on the WH made by Vermont and Conn Ave's. (p 119)

    The Pentagon

    According to the book, "the Pentagon is situated so that it's axes are pointed on the White House and the Capitol" and "its location has no direct relationship to the geometry of the original plan of the city". (p 175) Isn't having the axes pointed on something a direct relationship? Inspite of having been completed in 1943, it looks like the Pentagon does have a direct geometric relationship to the rest of the plan. While it is true that one corner of the building does orient with the White House, the 'front' side does not orient with the current Capitol location but with the ideal location identified above with the triangle. The line between the two locations parallels NY Ave. If the Capitol had been located 600 feet south, PA would have been straight all the way, and that line would have been Maryland Avenue which locates the Jefferson Memorial. A circle proves that the line crosses 16th St at the same distance south of the WH that the point of the triangle is above it. The Capitol is the same distance south as Scott Circle is north.

    See larger image

  • My second objection is to his mythologizing style of writing. I object to both the form and the content, which is not historically accurate but which seems to work well for DC tour guides. In contrast to Ovason who complains that "there are no indications whatsoever that L'Enfant had this surveying knowledge", Mann describes him as a true geomancer, or as 'a diviner of the earth', using all his senses to assess every topographical and subtle influence to arrive at the most favorable aspects for the city. (Puleeze!) I believe that the truth lies somewhere between these two. After having been sent to do a visual survey of the general area, one of L'Enfant's first tasks was survey and map the area near the East Branch, and he was able to produce at least two maps plans that we know of that appear to indicate his surveying knowledge. As to his supposed geomantic abilities, I'm not sure how one would go about proving that.

    Historically, Mann is intellectually dishonest. Consider this statement, "L'Enfant, supported by President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jeferson, was the prime mover in envisioning and laying out the capital city of the United States". Supported by the President? The President's home was 20 miles south and Jefferson lived close by. Washington had lobbied for years to be able to position the Capital in his own back yard in an area where both he and his wife owned land. Mary Custis Washington's family owned what is now Arlington Cemetary and George owned hundreds of acres within the district. The boundary for the district was being layed out before L'Enfant even arrived on the job to locate the public building sites.

    Presumably Washington and Jefferson settled on, or rather began with the oblique square shape for the district. This is the ad quadratum from the design world, meaning by the square. The tilted square is inhrently tied to cross within the circle; connecting the corners produces this square. The square represents the materiality and the Earth, so the quadratum rules foundation work and floors. The orthogonal grid of east-west north-south streets automatically results from this square and cross, the vertical (n/s) line is a meridian line. The foundation planning was done before L'Enfant was needed.

    L'Enfant supposedly provided the triangulum phase of the job, represented by the diagonal grid in the map design, but I don't think that it's fair to say that the guy who stayed a year and left was 'the prime mover' in anything.

    It is generally accepted that Ellicott was ordered to the area of the future city in February 1791 to begin what we would today call 'locating the corners', the positioning of the markers for the four corners of the District of Columbia boundary. L'Enfant arrived in March and during the course of the rest of the year, produced at least two reports accompanied by at least one map each that were delivered to the President for his inspection. The reports, actually letters to GW that were as L'Enfant says anexed to the maps, are dated June and August 1791.

    After viewing the June map and looking at L'Enfant's chosen location for the President's House (WH), Washington supposedly (according to Bob Arnebeck) told a crowd at Sutter's tavern that the WH would be further west 'for the advantage of higher ground' there, and that the map was just a draft and that there would be fewer diagonals in the finished product. This seems to indicate that if we were looking at a group of DC maps trying to decide which was the earliest one, we could look for the one with extra diagonal streets. We could also check to see if the building was ever really moved by overlaying the early plan on later versions or on the current configuration. I contend that doing this shows that the move never happened; indicating that either L'Enfant over-rode the President's veto or that the story isn't true.

    L'Enfant's August letter makes reference to an accompanying map that had been altered according to the President's direction, that is, it was the revised version of the earlier map plan. The Library of Congress map collection contains the 'map of dotted lines' that L'Enfant sent to GW in August and it features a greatly straightened Massachusetts Avenue, a feature that is usually attributed to Ellicott maps. The fact is that the Ellicott maps produced in 1792 have the same general appearance as L'Enfant's first draft, but with the changes that were witnessed in the August 'real features' map. (The August map shows the mouth of the Tiber 'as it is' while both the early map and the Ellicott maps show the mouth of the creek filled in.

    Ordinarily in the design process, we begin with initial ideas that generate drawings which evolve into working plans which are revised as often as needed, which is exactly what appears to have happened in DC. We had a map with a lot of diagonals, that was revised in August, and when the revisions were transferred to the original map form, the Ellicott maps were the end result- but there is no essential difference between the dotted line map and Ellicott's maps. This means that the changes that are usually attributed to Ellicott were actually made by L'Enfant. STILL Mann insists on the primacy of the first draft.

    Ironically, Mann has entered a belief system where the 'real' first draft has been lost. All of Mann's chronology is derived from a book by Richard Stephenson, the conclusions of which are called into question by some at the Library of Congress. According to Stephenson (and Mann) the June map has been lost, the August report was accompanied by two maps, one that L'Enfant describes as the 'map of doted lines' and another that the report does not mention. One of these has also been lost and the other one is the map with the extra diagonals that I say is the June map. Then Stephenson attributes a 'line drawing' to Benjamin Ellicott (Andrew's brother) working for L'Enfant in December- the illustration he uses is the dotted line map.

    But as I said, Mann is in the position of suggesting that every successive map is a degradation of the original, we need to get back to the original, then presenting us with number two because number one is missing. As you read Mann's book, you need to remember that he is not talking about the current configuration or even the plan that was used to produce the current configuration, he is talking about getting as close to the original plan that Washington rejected and asked him to revise. He doesn't even allow us to consider the August map since according to Mann, the only way that L'Enfant would have altered His Plan was if he were forced to.

    He suggests that a symbolic system of geometry was 'originally' employed although "its content was neither explained nor fully developed, and was subsequently departed from". (p 182) Meaning that the version he likes wasn't used.

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