It is no accident that Biltmore Estate and Biltmore Village are triumphs of architectural and landscape design. The men commissioned by George Vanderbilt were among the most admired in their fields.
The estate itself, and some of the key buildings of the nearby village, were designed by the world-renowned New York architect, Richard Morris Hunt, who had earlier designed the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, as well as the stately façade and great entrance Hall of New York’s magnificent Metropolitan Museum of Art. Described by the New York Times as American architecture’s first and greatest statesman, Hunt is also known as the founder of both the American Institute of Architecture and the Municipal Art Society.
To focus on the design of the estate’s manicured gardens and lush grounds, as well as to oversee the planning of the adjacent Biltmore Village community, Vanderbilt recruited the highly acclaimed landscape architect and park designer, and noted conservationist, Frederick Law Olmsted. Often thought of as the father of American landscape architecture, Olmsted had famously designed New York’s Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, the country’s first municipal park, and one of the nation’s first planned communities, among countless other notable achievements.
While Hunt’s style of architecture reflected his education at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, Olmsted, who felt an affinity for English landscape and gardening, favored a more “naturalistic,” less formal approach. Despite these stylistic differences, both men, each nearing the end of a storied career, had a hand in designing Biltmore Village. It was Olmsted, however, who appears to have been most responsible for the layout of the village’s streets, the plantings of the trees, and the arrangement of the residential, social and commercial areas. And while both Hunt and Olmsted were involved with Vanderbilt in the architectural design of the village’s many buildings, after Hunt’s death in the early phase of construction, it was Hunt’s associate, the project’s supervising architect, Richard Sharp Smith, who is credited with having designed many of the village’s iconic structures.
For these extraordinary men, each an icon of what has become known as America’s “Gilded Age,” the design and completion of Vanderbilt Estate and Biltmore Village were seen as crowning achievements.