The National Building Museum is hard to miss- in real life and let’s be honest, on Instagram as well. The massive (and massively gorgeous) building is made from over 15 million bricks, is 15 stories tall at it’s highest point and cost $886,614.04 to make in the late 1800’s. Impressed yet? Before visiting I had seen it all over my Instagram. Swanky parties and galas with guests donned in floor length ball gowns is the norm when the location is so grand.
The museum was built between 1882-1887 to house the Pension Bureau after the Civil War. There were around 890,000 pension claims after the war so the immense space made sense at the time. Montgomery Meigs, a veteran of the Civil War, was the architect of the building and designed it to be a hall of records and memorial. Because of this, he was required to use fireproof materials to keep the records safe. There was a region wide shortage of bricklayers that year.
There were many design characteristics that I feel should be noted. The tall ceilings and open center allowed for the offices around the perimeter to stay cool, while the hot air rose in the center during steamy DC summers. In the center of the building are 75-foot-tall Corinthian columns which are considered some of the tallest interior columns in the world and “figuring that thousands of disabled veterans would have to climb the stairs between floors, Meigs built gently sloping steps with unusually wide treads and short risers. This early attempt at accessibility predated the Americans with Disabilities Act by a century and a half.” – source
The week I toured the museum happened to be the final building week for their Lawn installation in the center of the museum. While we weren’t able to enjoy the installation and it was hard to ignore the rafters in the center of the museum, we were still able to enjoy the giant columns and appreciate their vast beauty.
We were also able to wander through a few of their exhibits as well. We walked through Animals, Collected, House & Home, & my favorite, Flickering Treasures. The last exhibit was one of the reasons I wanted to visit with my husband, Chris, who is a film and television enthusiast and works in the industry as well. He has a great appreciation for movie theaters of the past and present and while it was sad to see so many theaters fade into our history, it was wonderful to learn more about the impact they’ve made. It was also really special because the entire exhibit was about Baltimore movie theaters. We were both incredibly moved to stand amongst such infamous artifacts that would tell quite a story if they could talk.