There are four courts within the Arts and Industries Building (formerly the National Museum), nestled in the corner of each quadrant where the halls join the Rotunda. When designing the plans for this historic downtown Washington, D.C. building, architect-in-charge Adolf Cluss aimed to create sweeping views and an uninterrupted flow between the structure’s various elements. He intended for the courts in particular to be lit from above, providing additional daylight into the adjacent halls and ranges while simultaneously providing ample light and ventilation within the courts themselves.
A Solution for Space Constraints
Between 1896 and 1902, architects Joseph Hornblower (1848-1908) and James Marshall (1851-1927) were commissioned to make alterations to the National Museum, to allow for more exhibition space (after only 15 years, the Museum was already becoming overcrowded with exhibits and artifacts). Under Hornblower and Marshall’s supervision, additional galleries were built within all four of the courts, modifying the building’s original layout. Construction of these galleries blocked some of the daylight from reaching the exhibits, so skylights were added to each of the court roofs as well. The design of the building continued to evolve over time, with the courts becoming smaller and the spatial flow around the Rotunda becoming less open.
Though their aesthetic has changed since its original inception by Cluss and his fellow architects, the courts still serve an important purpose within the hierarchy of the AIB’s architecture.