National Building Museum
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401 F St. NW
Telephone: 202.272.2448
Admission: Free
Museum Hours: Monday - Saturday: 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Sunday: Noon - 4:00 PM
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day

The world we build for ourselves - from our homes and offices and factories to our parks, our roads our cities as a whole - is the subject of the National Building Museum, the only institution in the United States dedicated to American achievements in architecture, urban planning, construction, engineering and design.

Created by an act of Congress, the Museum presents permanent and temporary exhibitions; collects artifacts of design and construction; publishes books and an award-winning journal, Blueprints; and offers a wide variety of programs. From workshops on building crafts to tours of landmark buildings and construction sites, as well as films, lectures, concert series and symposia, these programs delight and educate students, families and adults.

On permanent display at the Museum is the interactive, hands-on exhibition Washington: Symbol and City, presenting a comprehensive look at the growth and development of the capital of the United States. Offering a singular overview of the city's monuments and neighborhoods, as well as its historically important urban plan, the exhibition is a perfect first stop for visitors to Washington.

Also on permanent display is the exhibition The Pension Building, focusing on the Museum's historic home. Designed in 1881 by civil engineer and U.S. Army General Montgomery C. Meigs and completed in 1887, the Pension Building was originally built to house the Pension Bureau and was later occupied by many other government agencies. Once threatened with demolition, the building is now acknowledged to be an engineering marvel. An ingenious system of windows, vents and open archways creates the famous Great Hall, a reservoir of light and air. The impressive Italian Renaissance design, with its central fountain and eight colossal Corinthian columns - among the tallest interior columns in the world - has also made the Great Hall a sought-after spot for gala events, including many Presidential Inaugural Balls from 1885 until the present day.

A continuous series of temporary exhibitions - close to fifty have been mounted since the Museum opened in 1985 - explores how buildings influence our lives and invites visitors to think about how and why we build. World War II and the American Dream: How Wartime Building Changed a Nation, for example, looks at the most extensive building campaign in U.S. history and examines the effects of the war on the material dreams and aspirations of Americans. Tools as Art examined even the humblest hammer as a design object, while Barn Again! explored the barn as a vanishing cultural icon in the American landscape.

Celebrating the men and women who have built the United States, shining light on the art and craft of construction, and revealing the how and why of good design, the National Building Museum is America's advocate for improving the quality of the built environment.

A private, nonprofit institution, the National Building Museum relies on the support of individuals, corporations, and foundations for its operating funds.

National Building Museum

Facts About the Building

Montgomery C. Meigs (1816 - 1892).
Quartermaster General in charge of provisions during the Civil War

Construction Dates
1882 - 1887

Original Cost

Exterior Dimensions
400 feet by 200 feet, 75 feet to cornice level

15,500,000 bricks with brick and terra cotta ornament

Exterior Frieze
  • 1,200 feet long, 3 feet high, made of terra cotta
  • Designed by Bohemian-born sculptor Caspar Buberl (1834 - 1889)
  • A continuous parade of Civil War military units

Great Hall
  • 316 feet by 116 feet...159 feet at its highest point
  • Presidential seal in place since 1901

  • 28 feet across with original terra cotta trim

Corinthian Columns
  • Among the tallest interior columns in the world 75 feet high; 8 feet in diameter; 25 feet in circumference
  • Each built of 70,000 bricks
  • Painted in 1895 to resemble Siena marble

  • 72 ground floor Doric-style columns (terra cotta covered with cement) and 72 second floor Ionic-style columns (cast iron)

  • 244 busts in niches high above the center court
  • Modern busts recreate original appearance of court
  • 8 different models represent members of building occupations

Inaugural Balls
In 1885 Grover Cleveland began a tradition of holding presidential festivities in the Great Hall that has been followed by other U.S. Presidents to the present day.

401 F Street NW, between 4th and 5th Streets at the Judiciary Square Metro Station (Red Line Metro). Wheelchair access at 4th and G Street entrances.

Museum Hours
Monday - Saturday 10:00 am - 4:00 pm
Sunday 12:00 noon - 4:00 pm
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day

Pension Building Tours
Daily tours of the National Building Museum's historic home
Monday - Friday 12:30 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12:30 pm, 1:30 pm
No reservations needed. Group tours by appointment.

Museum Shop
The Museum Shop, located on the ground floor, offers an extensive selection of books on architecture and building as well as gifts for adults and children that reflect the theme of the building. Museum members receive a discount on all purchases.

The Great Hall
The majestic Great Hall is available to corporations, cultural organizations and others for private gatherings.

Museum membership offers such privileges as invitations to exhibition previews and special events; discounts on Museum Shop purchases, programs, workshops and tours; and subscriptions to Blueprints and the Museum Calendar.

For more information on Museum exhibitions, programs, tours, and membership, call 202 272 - 2448.

Text by The National Building Museum, Washington, D.C.
© Copyright Thaddeus O. Cooper 1996, 1997