The Source for Richmond Architecture and Design Information

Egyptian Building

Architect: Thomas S. Stewart
Dates: 1845
Address: 1200 E. Marshall Street Richmond VA

Among all the buildings in Richmond, the Egyptian Building is certainly one of the most fascinating. The building was erected in 1845 as the home for Hampden-Sydney College’s Medical school, the first in the south. It is currently part of the campus of the Medical College of Virginia (a branch of Virginia Commonwealth University) and is the emblem of the campus.

The building was designed by Philadelphia architect Thomas S. Stewart in the Egyptian revival style. Egyptian imagery is common in the field of medicine as the first physician in western history is often cited as Imhotep, also the first recorded architect of the west. Egyptian forms had been adapted for funerary and medical buildings previously but MCV’s Egyptian Building took this influence uncommonly far.

The building is filled with glyphs, antiquated symbols, and even quotes from hymns praising the gods Aten and Amun. It’s facade is not merely an Egyptian entry sutured onto a neoclassic building but rather a complete egyptian expression. Its obelisk gate, battered walls, papyrus columns, monumental windowless surfaces, and harsh contrast between shadow and highlight create a convincing Egyptian effect. Rarely do people guess from a photograph that the building is five stories high due to its deceivingly sculptural facade.

The building has remained in continuous use since its completion and it’s unique architectural qualities have landed it on the list of National Historic Landmarks. While both of those accolades are strong indicators, nothing could more meaningfully convey the building’s significance than a remark by Dr. Wyndham Blanton at a Founder’s Day function in 1940. He stated:

“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.”



  • Elizabeth M. Avett

    Do you have a record of my grandfather, Romulus William Stephens whom we believe studied dentistry at Richmond Medical College, finishing about 1905? Thank you!

    • architecturerichmond

      Ms. Avett, I’m afraid we do not have any information on your grandfather. I would recommend contacting the VCU Health Sciences Library of the James Branch Cabell Library to see if they can assist you. The Library of Virginia may also be able to help. I wish you the best in your search, and thanks for reading!

  • Linda O’Mara

    Thank you for providing this interesting information . I am sitting in a secluded area of the cafeteria at MCV awaiting the completion of a procedure being performed on my husband. I chose this small table in front of the huge window which provides me with a perfect view of the Egyptian Building and Monumental Church. . I am enjoying learning the history of both. Is this building open to public ? I would love to take a tour as I am an interior designer who has always had a passion for historic architecture .

    • architecturerichmond

      Ms. O’Mara, I’m glad the articles have been helpful. It is a very interesting building, which is well worth going inside. I am not sure if they offer tours now, though. I pasted a link below to the VCU office of campus planning and design / facilities management. Perhaps you could inquire about a visit with using the email address at the bottom of the page? Or just walk in if they’ll let you! Monumental Church is open by appointment (see the second link to Historic Richmond below).

      I hope your husband is doing okay. And thank you for reading ArchitectureRichmond and commenting!–design/

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