Red Brick City

Red brick was the building material of choice in Washington, D.C. in the mid-to-late 19th century; it was considered modern, economical, and, most importantly, fireproof. The Arts and Industries Building (AIB) was built with red brick, iron, stone and plaster; its design balanced that of the Smithsonian Institution Building (now referred to as the Castle), adjacent to the AIB on the National Mall. Building materials were mass-manufactured, allowing for rapid construction.

The AIB is symmetrical and four-sided, with the Rotunda in its center as the tallest space. The next tallest spaces are the exhibition halls, courts, towers, pavilions, and finally the ranges.

Soaring Space, Plentiful Light

When it opened, the most remarkable quality of the National Museum, as it was then called, was its powerful orchestration of space and light – there were no solid walls separating the halls surrounding the central Rotunda, permitting views from one space into another, all the way to the opposite side of the building and to the high roofs above.