The Arts and Industries Building (AIB) was designed at a time in architectural history when engineering technologies were just starting to change the way that buildings were constructed. Architect Adolf Cluss was dedicated to designing a sustainable, efficient and economical structure, utilizing as many natural resources as possible.
Cluss’s goals for the former National Museum could almost be read as the foundation for today’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria. The core values in the AIB’s original plan included fresh air and natural light in every space, and the use of building materials that were local to Washington, D.C. whenever available. The structure was designed to be flooded with natural light and to benefit from natural ventilation; its long-span wrought iron trusses were extremely effective in covering a maximum amount of space with the fewest materials.
Further building innovations included slab on grade construction, which was cost-and material-efficient and allowed the museum the ability to display heavy objects. Brick cavity walls provided protection from moisture as well as space for insulation. And perhaps Cluss’s most important innovation for the AIB — the use of double-glazed to filter light and provide insulation — moderated temperature from exterior to interior.
These progressive, “19th century green” innovations were fitting for a museum that was to become a showcase for the exhibition of new technologies, new natural history, and cultural discoveries.