Washington Architects | Arts and Industries Building (AIB)

The foundation of the National Museum Building (now the AIB) owes much to the vision of Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823–1887). Baird joined the Smithsonian Institution staff in 1850, as Assistant Secretary in the Department of Natural History. He added his own personal artifacts to the collection already in the Smithsonian’s possession, and solicited benefactors for additional donations. Baird worked tirelessly to increase the Smithsonian’s collection of natural history specimens.

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The Growing Need For a Separate Space

These specimens, along with a large collection transferred by the government to the Smithsonian in 1858, formed the basis of the National Museum, and were housed in the Smithsonian Institution Building (the Castle). Predictably, the collection soon increased The Building Committee posing outside of the building. The architect, Adolf Cluss, is the third from the right, 1880beyond the capacity of the Castle to house it, and available staff to maintain it. Joseph Henry (1797-1878), the Smithsonian’s then-director, lobbied Congress to assume ownership of the Castle (and the National Museum within it); he did not want the Smithsonian to be responsible for museum management but to concentrate on scientific research. Over time, however, Henry came to understand and appreciate Spencer Baird’s dream of creating a separate museum under the Smithsonian umbrella. When the government received extensive technological and natural history exhibits from the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, the desire for a separate building to house the museum’s collections quickly became an urgent necessity.

Work on the National Museum Begins

In 1879, Congress appropriated funds for the construction of the National Museum Building, and approved a site for it on the Smithsonian grounds, southeast of the Castle. The building was designed by Washington architects and engineers Adolph Cluss & Paul Schulze, and was built in two years, between 1879 and 1881.

Fire protection was a critically important factor in the choice of building materials. Disastrous fires had recently devastated major public buildings in Washington including the Castle itself (in 1865) and the U.S. Patent Office (in 1877). It was imperative that this new building be fireproof – only brick, iron, stone & plaster were used in its construction.

Several Washington, DC firms had a major impact on the building during various renovation campaigns.

1897-1902; Hornblower and Marshall

1970s: Hugh Newell Jacobsen

2010-2014; SmithGroup, JJR