Front view of the Egyptian Building
|Architectural style||Egyptian Revival|
|NRHP Reference #||69000321|
|Added to NRHP||April 16, 1969|
|Designated NHL||November 11, 1971|
|Designated VLR||November 5, 1968|
The Egyptian Building is a historic college building in Richmond, Virginia, completed in 1845. It was the first permanent home of the Medical Department of Hampden-Sydney College (later renamed the Medical College of Virginia) and now is a part of Virginia Commonwealth University. It is considered by architectural scholars to be one of the finest surviving Egyptian Revival-style buildings in the nation. The Egyptian Building was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register on November 5, 1968, the National Register of Historic Places on April 16, 1969, and finally designated as a National Historic Landmark on November 11, 1971.
After several years in the Union Hotel, the board of the college decided they needed a space specifically created for medical education. Aid was sought to pay for the structure and the Commonwealth offered a twenty-five thousand dollar loan and Richmond donated two thousand dollars. The board chose the noted Philadelphia architect, Thomas Somerville Stewart, who had just completed the new St. Paul's Church, to build the College Building. Stewart chose to design the new building in the Egyptian Revival mode, considered to be an exotic style. His choice of this style was considered to be appropriate by the board because it was considered that the origins of medicine went back to the Egyptian physician, Imhotep. Sir William Osler wrote that Imhotep was the "first figure of a physician to stand out clearly from the mists of antiquity."
The Egyptian Building was originally called College Building and later the Old College Building. The National Register of Historic Places considers it to be the oldest medical college building in the South. The battered walls of the structure recall the ancient temples of Egypt.
Originally the building housed medical lecture rooms, a dissecting room, an infirmary and hospital beds for medical and surgical cases. The building was restored in 1939 by the architects, Baskerville and Son, in honor of Dr. Simon Baruch, an 1862 graduate of the Medical College of Virginia. At that time the interior of the building was remodeled to carry on the Egyptian style.
The building has been in continuous use since it was built in 1845. In 1969 it became a historic landmark, and in 1995 it celebrated its 150th anniversary. It has at one time or another been used by every school in the Medical College. The MCV Campus has a strong sentimental attachment to the Egyptian Building. At Founders' Day exercises held at the Egyptian Building, 5 December 1940, historian Dr. Wyndham Blanton commented to alumni and guests:
"What old Nassau Hall is to Princeton, what the Wren Building is to William and Mary, what the Rotunda is to the University of Virginia, the Egyptian Building is to the Medical College of Virginia. It is a shrine, a sanctuary of tradition, the physical embodiment of our genius. It is a spiritual heritage. In a world often accused of cold materialism, with an ideology of human self-sufficiency, and an adoration of objects that can be handled and seen, there is a need for things of the spirit, if science is to do more than make life safer, longer and more comfortable."
The building is constructed from brick, stucco and cast iron. Its battered walls—thinner at the top than at the bottom—give an impression of solidity and height. This effect is emphasized by the relatively minimal windows for a five-story building. These windows are diamond paned and incorporated without a style break. A primary feature of the building is its distyle-in-antis porticoes with monumental columns at each end. The columns have intricate palm frond capitals. The shafts of each column represent bundles of reeds. Several obelisks flank the structure and are connected by a cast iron fence that incorporates what appears to be hermai, resembling sarcophagi (mummy cases), forged by R. W. Barnes of Richmond.
Also prominent throughout the building is the use of the Winged sun disk. On the exterior it is found repeated in the cavetto cornices that cap the pylons. This winged disk represents Horus, as a sun disk with outstretched wings, flanked by the goddesses Bekbet and Uaset in the form of snakes. This is the form Horus took in Egyptian mythology when he battled the god Set. Later the image took on other meanings with the Sun disc representing eternity, the serpent representing wisdom, and finally the wings representing the spirit.
On the interior, the lotus flower design is used repeatedly. The interior colors have intentional symbolic meaning: red represents divine love; blue represents divine intelligence; and the golden yellow represents the mercy of God. Hieroglyphs are incorporated in the antechamber decorations and the floor tiles depict a large scarab beetle.
The hieroglyphics in the antechamber to auditorium come from an Egyptian hymn to the gods Amun and Aten in the reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1353 B.C.). The right side of the jambs reads "I never took pleasure in any conversation wherein were words of exaggeration and lies." The left side of the jambs reads "Thou didst make me great because I was performing my duty." Amun is the king of gods and Aten is one of the Sun gods (the other being Ra).
The lintel, or horizontal part of the door jamb, bears a different set of messages. On the left is reads, "Tutankhamen: To whom life is given forever" and on the right it reads,"Tutankhamen: Living image of Amon." This message likely represents the fervor with which the public associated Egypt with the child Pharaoh, King Tut (Tutankhamen), who was discovered in 1922, very near to when this interior was remodeled.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09.
- "NRHP Inventory, Nomination Form: Egyptian Building". Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. Virginia Department of Historic Resources. March 27, 1969. Retrieved November 26, 2012.
- "Egyptian Building". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved November 26, 2012.
- Osler, W. (1921). The evolution of modern medicine: given at Yale University as the Silliman Memorial Lectures, in April, 1913. New Haven: Yale University Press.
- MCV Egyptian Building
- Egyptian Building @ Virginia Commonwealth University / Medical College of Virginia Campus / School of Medicine / Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
- Egyptian Building, 1200 block of East Marshall Street, Richmond, Independent City, VA: 5 photos, 4 color transparencies, and 1 photo caption page at Historic American Buildings Survey