In 1879, Cluss & Schulze, one of Washington, D.C.’s most prominent and prolific architectural firms, was commissioned to design the National Museum (now known as the AIB), in the city’s downtown district. Architect-in-charge Adolf Cluss and his fellow engineers based the National Museum in part on the design of recently constructed international exposition buildings, including the 1851 Crystal Palace in London and the 1876 Government Building in Philadelphia.
A Counterpart to the Castle
The National Museum was designed in what Cluss termed a “modernized Romanesque style”, both to complement the existing Smithsonian Institution Building (commonly known as the Castle) and to fulfill “modern demands of perfect safety and elegance of construction.” The Museum’s soaring, light-filled halls, decorative ironwork, tasteful and dramatic interiors, and impressive Rotunda provided an ideal backdrop for the many noteworthy natural history exhibits it was intended to display.
The AIB was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971; it is considered one of the best-preserved examples of 19th century world exposition architecture in the United States.