Built in an era of catastrophic fires, including the damaging one to the adjacent Smithsonian Castle, the Arts and Industries Building’s construction was fireproof, using brick, wrought iron, tile and slate to protect the national collections.

West view of building under construction, ca 1880Originally the first National Museum, the Arts and Industries Building (AIB) was designed by Adolf Cluss, a renowned German-American architect, and completed in 1881. The building was 90,000 square feet and consisted of one story; in the early 20th century, second story mezzanines were added, for a total of 140,000 gross square feet. The project was, at the time, a leading demonstration of modern museum design, and featured an open plan with natural ventilation and abundant daylight, so that no artificial lighting was required during the day. The original sketch by Adolf Cluss shows the interior with mezzanine or balcony galleries that were added from 1879-1902.

While the building went through a series of renovations over time, there were very few exterior changes. Interior changes involved adding mechanical systems, expanding second floor plates, adding partitions to subdivide interior spaces and generally limiting exhibition spaces and increasing office spaces. The recent revitalization project has removed many of these incompatible construction changes and is in the process of returning the interior to its former expanse of open and full height spaces.

Located on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, the building is a National Historic Landmark.

Construction view of the tall brick arched piers for the halls, ca. 1880View of the sketch by Adolf Cluss of the interior showing concept for balconies.