Shortly after the Arts and Industries Building (formerly the National Museum) opened, retractable awnings were installed on some of the building’s windows – specifically, at the towers and pavilions, where the museum’s offices and laboratories were located. In April 1882, 32 awnings were placed on the West façade; by May 1882, awnings had been added on all windows exposed to direct sunlight.
The awnings were put in place on an as-needed basis and determined by request, rather than according to any specific plan; not all of the windows received them. The awnings provided an economical way to reduce temperature increases (an inevitability in Washington, D.C. during the summer) and to minimize glare, particularly in the areas of the museum where employees worked. Today, the awnings are as much a part of the landmark’s historic appeal as the elements of the building that were part of its original plan.