TO FEB. 18, 2002

In the first half of the 20th century, a number of very rich Americans spent enormous sums of money to build lush retreats with mannered, intricately designed landscapes. At least seven of these estates (Naumkeag, Stockbridge, Mass., pictured) have survived, avoiding the twin fates of terminal neglect and sale to real estate developers. Each is featured in the National Building Museum’s “A Genius for Place: American Landscapes of the Country Place Era,” an exhibition that consists of large, timeless, and understated photographs of pergolas, sculptures, seawalls, Japanese footbridges, blooming flowerbeds, leafy woods, curving outdoor staircases, and, of course, intricately manicured lawns. Despite generous explanatory captions, visitors unfamiliar with the theory and practice of landscape architecture probably won’t be able to decipher the varied stylistic approaches of designers at different locations. But the mostly black-and-white images—made by photographer Carol Betsch for an upcoming book—exude an unmistakable, and welcome, peace and quietude. A color image of the only local estate featured (Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown) is especially memorable, capturing the garden’s backdrop of trees amid a gentle mist at their pastel-hued finest. Interestingly, Dumbarton seems to maintain its popularity—a seeming counterpoint to the estates in the exhibition’s photographs, which, either by design or by oversight, capture gorgeous views without a single human in sight. On view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday (except Thursday, Nov. 22); and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, to Monday, Feb. 18, 2002, at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. Free. (202) 272-2448. (Louis Jacobson)