As part of their alterations to Washington, D.C.’s National Museum (now the AIB) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, architects Joseph Hornblower and James Marshall created mezzanine galleries in three of the four halls, most of the ranges, and all of the courts. These galleries were added to alleviate the mounting issue of overcrowding within the Museum, and to provide more space for the Smithsonian’s growing exhibits. Small skylights and ventilators were built over some of the ranges and courts in cases where the recently constructed galleries interfered with natural lighting.
Hornblower and Marshall also oversaw the addition and modification of stairs and railings within the Museum, as well as various art-related interior treatments. The original primary spiral stairs, located in the Rotunda between the arched openings to each hall, were replaced with two-flight stairs in the same location. These stairs are lined with railings, as are the edges of each mezzanine floor plate.
Simple, Elegant Design
The railings in all of the newly added galleries consist of cast iron panels with a geometric decorative pattern designed by architect Victor Mindeleff. These railings also replaced the original Cluss-designed railings in the balconies at the end of the halls.
Because there are so many mezzanine railings in the halls, ranges and courts, they have a significant impact on the overall atmosphere of the AIB’s exhibition spaces. During the revitalization of the AIB, the galleries became an important second level space to locate the temporary services that will be used during the interim use phase. Seen on the railing is the construction crew mascot, Pinky, who traveled throughout the building during various revitalization projects.