Severe weather in 2003, engineering investigations, and concern that the building was increasingly unsuited to serve visitors and staff, prompted the closing of the Arts and Industries Building (AIB) in January 2004, with the museum’s staff completely relocated by 2006.
The Institution’s identification of the state of the building’s condition was not new. The fact that the Arts and Industries Building was entering a period in its history of “accelerating risk of failure” was noted as early as 1996; at that point, significant efforts were taken, through aggressive maintenance and temporary repair, to extend the building’s useful life. But it soon became evident that temporary repairs were no longer practical or effective.
Growing Safety Concerns
In particular, the condition of the roof of the building was evaluated in considerable detail. A comprehensive survey and analysis was conducted in 1998 to determine the source of continuing leaks and to evaluate the condition of the structure. Following heavy snowfall in Washington, D.C. in February 2003, a significant new leak appeared in the North Hall and Northwest Court, causing plaster to fall at the Gallery near the Rotunda. At the Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations’ (now Smithsonian Facilities) direction, an emergency inspection of the AIB roof was performed, temporary protection erected, and a further evaluation of the current condition of the roof commissioned.
The results of that evaluation confirmed the need for action. Specifically, the condition of the metal ceiling panels presented an immediate safety concern. Extensive rusting of these metal panels was apparent throughout the building, and the consulting examiners concluded that partial failure of the roofing was inevitable; it was simply a matter of time.
As a result, the Smithsonian took the prudent step of closing the Arts and Industries Building to protect National Mall visitors, staff and collections. Once empty, the building was secured and measures taken to prevent further physical deterioration.