AAF and Saving America’s Treasures: A History of Engagement

The American Architectural Foundation and Saving America’s Treasures have a long history of engagement. Prior to becoming a nonprofit partner of the National Park Service in 2014, AAF received two grants directly from Saving America’s Treasures to restore two treasures of our own, the Octagon Museum and House and the original (and only remaining) World Trade Center complex model.

In 2002, American Architectural Foundation received a Save America’s Treasures grant to conserve, restore, and preserve the original World Trade Center complex model.  A team of professionals including a conservator, a model design and fabrication firm, a photographer, and a video company participated in the project. The restoration included an analysis of broken pieces to determine chemical content and restoration of damaged portions and existing elements, including figures, cars, buses, and other elements.


Model of the WTC towers. Image courtesy of Lee Stalworth.

Although originally intended as an architectural tool to demonstrate how the World Trade Center would dramatically change the face of New York City’s skyline, the WTC presentation model is now a revered object representing a nation’s tragic loss and a nation’s hope for the future. Prior to the museum’s opening, AAF donated the model to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum for its permanent exhibit.


Image courtesy of Lee Stalworth.

In 2005, AAF (then the nonprofit arm of the American Institute of Architects) received a second grant from Saving America’s Treasures to restore our then-home, the Octagon House and Museum. The Octagon was designed in 1799 by Dr. William Thornton, the First Architect of the United States Capitol, the building is nationally recognized as one of America’s earliest and finest examples of Federal Period architecture. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960.


This grant and matching funds enabled AAF to replace the roof and restore the Octagon’s balconettes, stone and brick masonry elements, all exterior wood fabric, the entry portico and its roof, and install exterior waterproofing of the underground barrel-vaulted coal storage tunnel. In addition, we also conducted an additional archaeological study of the lower rear entrance and underground coal storage vault areas.

Exterior, Balustrade Conservation

Image courtesy of the American Architectural Foundation.

From 1970 (when we purchased the Octagon from the AIA) to 2009, AAF opened the Octagon to the public as an historic house and museum of architecture and design. During our 42 years of ownership, we were proud to receive national awards from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and The Getty Institute for Conservation for our exemplary restoration and care of the Octagon. The Save America’s Treasures grant greatly assisted AAF’s continued preservation of the building from 2005 – 2009.

AAF remains grateful for SAT’s assistance in the restoration of these two treasures, and is proud of its role in restoring these artifacts to share them with the public.

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Posted in: Center for Design & Cultural Heritage, Print, Save America's Treasures

The American Architectural Foundation has been dedicated to advancing the role of architecture and design in American society since its founding in 1943 by the American Institute of Architects.

In its 75 years in existence the Foundation’s work has taken many forms — from educational programming and exhibitions in its early years to large-scale design initiatives and programs —all of which serve to create a rich legacy.

As the managing partner of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design for twenty years, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Conference of Mayors, the Foundation helped move the needle on design and cities. And, through its other signature programs like Save America’s Treasures in partnership with National Parks Service, the Sustainable Cities Design Academy, and Design for Learning, the Foundation has provided critical design leadership training and technical assistance to hundreds of elected officials, education leaders, business leaders, and other key decision makers in the design process.

In recent years, cities and civic leaders have embraced design and design thinking in a way that could not have been imagined when the Foundation begin its work back in 1943 — and AAF’s role in this transformation is a source of great pride for the Foundation. With this increased interest in the role of design in shaping our cities came a proliferation of new organizations to support and facilitate this cultural shift. These advances in the role of design in American society and changes in the nonprofit design sector, coupled with the departure of the organization’s longest-serving CEO, prompted the Foundation’s Board to embark on an intensive and lengthy process to examine the ongoing role and work of the Foundation.

As the Board of Regents reflected on the positive changes of the cultural value of design, the accomplishments of the Foundation, and how the legacy of the Foundation’s work is being carried out by its former staff in new roles and organizations across the country, they reached the conclusion that the American Architectural Foundation had accomplished what it set out to do. As a result, the Foundation began to complete its remaining programs and wind down its operations in the Summer of 2018 and the organization’s endowments have been distributed to allied organizations. The Foundation’s research and reports will remain available on its website as a resource to the field.

The Foundation’s work would not have been possible without the incredible talents of its many staff over the decades, the generous support of its funders, and the tireless dedication of its civic & design partners across the country. The Board remains deeply proud of the significant contributions Foundation has made in its 75-year history and would like to acknowledge that this would not have been possible without the efforts, dedication, and support from so many of you.