The Washington, D.C. architectural firm of Cluss & Schulze, headed by Adolf Cluss and Paul Schulze, was commissioned to design and construct the National Museum Building (now the AIB) in 1879. Cluss, the project’s chief architect, was faced with a challenge: a small budget, a tight schedule, and a need for lots of space. At that time, the United States was just beginning to emerge from a severe fiscal depression, so it was important that this publically funded museum be built as economically as possible.

An Intelligent Solution

Cluss’s solution was to adapt the recent style of exposition-style buildings, such as the Crystal Palace in London, home to the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the 1867 Paris Exposition building. Cluss was particularly inspired by the design of the landmark Government Building at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, with its octagonal-shaped rotunda and vast long halls. Cluss made the big building more compact by planning upper stories at the corners and entrance towers of the building – a departure from the historic one-story style of exposition plans.

View of the interior decorated for the James A. Garfield inaugural, 1881

“Modernized Romanesque”

Cluss described the style of the National Museum Building as “modernized Romanesque,” complementing the Norman Romanesque style of the Castle. His ideas were influenced by the Rundbogenstil (literally “round arch”) aesthetic that had developed in Germany some 50 years earlier. This newer style incorporated updated materials and building methods, as well as the use of modular, mass-produced component parts including brick and iron trusses – which enabled cheaper, faster construction.