An Architect for the Nation's Capital
Cluss's architectural career began in 1862 when he planned the first modern public schools in the nation's capital. He designed many other public buildings including churches, markets, government offices, meeting and performance halls, and museums. His career mirrored closely those of the intellectually prominent French and German graduates of the polytechnical schools who learned to build buildings and public works whose beauty derived from their structural efficiency.
Cluss transferred his early socialism into an architectural and engineering profession that served the public and were executed in a modern style. He was uniquely qualified to address quality of life issues since he was both an architect and an engineer. It seems, for example, an extension of his social ideas that when Cluss began his career in the decade of the 1860's, we see him producing a range of public buildings.
One type of buildings that especially interested Cluss was the educational. Cluss designed many schools-the public schools of the District, including schools for colored children, private schools and colleges. We know of 11 schools and have some information on a possible 12th.
On May 22, 1871, The Evening Star described the wide-ranging influence of Cluss's school designs. Members of Congress "extensively circulated the plans throughout the country" by sending the drawings and specifications to their home districts. The President of Argentina, Domingo Sarmiento, requested plans and drawings of Cluss's schools so that educational officials in the cities of Buenos Aires and San Juan could study them. He had visited the still-unfinished Franklin School and the Wallach School when he served as Argentinian ambassador to the United States from 1865-1868. The Earl de Grey, George Robinson, also requested plans for the Franklin School that he had observed when he represented Great Britain in negotiating the Treaty of Washington in 1870. As Lord President of the Privy Council from 1866-73, Robinson had special responsibility for implementing the Education Act of 1870, which led to the building of many state-supported, public schools. Specific schools that reflect Cluss designs have yet to be discovered in England or Argentina.
Cluss sought residential commissions on prominent corners, streets, and squares that became models that influenced other architects. By 1890, Cluss had designed four of the first five buildings on the National Mall. In his approximately 100 known designs, he employed French Second Empire, German "Rundbogenstil", and Renaissance styles, often using red brick for his main construction material.
Cluss buildings were admired for his use of the latest technological innovations in ventilation, fireproofing, and central heating. Cluss's emphasis on the importance of designing for building function such as in his school, market, and museum buildings, and incorporating functional elements such as ventilating pipes into building designs, anticipated twentieth-century trends in architecture.