The National Building Museum — designed by an engineer, inspired by Italy's palazzos
The site of inaugural balls and a super-sized setting for galas, weddings, and launches
To stand in the Great Hall is to experience the true scale of this powerful space
Host an event in the Great Hall during the day and you can turn the lights off
Light your fire with a celebration of love and passion and a red-hot wedding reception
National Building Museum
Style: Business Meetings, Social Gatherings
One of America’s largest historic great halls, intended for Washington’s grand political and social gatherings. For an evening, it can be your great hall.
In 1882, a slice of Renaissance Italy came to America’s Capital in a big way. This is when construction began on the headquarters for the U.S. Pension Bureau. The project was designed and engineered by the same person, U.S. Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs. Meig’s inspiration is clearly Italianate, of which some design elements are derived from 16th century palazzos and churches, including Michelangelos’s work.
The exterior walls are almost entirely of brick. The brick patterns are well proportioned, with great height and symmetry, resembling the Roman Palazzo Farnese. A prominent feature on the exterior walls is a handsome 1,200-foot-long terra-cotta frieze that wraps around the building, depicting a parade of Civil War military.
The dominant feature of the building’s interior is the supersized Great Hall. The Great Hall is 116 feet wide and 316 feet long, about the length of an American football field. The center of the hall features a 28-foot-diameter water fountain. As spectacular as the Great Hall is in its grand floor area, it is even more dramatic in its height. The roof of this extraordinary space rises to 159 feet at its peak. The Hall is essentially divided into three “courts”, separated by two rows of four Corinthian columns. These columns are considered among the tallest in the world, at 75 feet in height and 8 feet in diameter.
Meig’s “palazzo” was also ahead of its time environmentally. The design of the building’s ventilation system utilized a constant stream of fresh air, a feature of modern-day sustainable design. The huge clerestory windows below the roof allow substantial natural daylight into the Great Hall, reducing the need for artificial lighting.
The building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1969. In 1978, a thorough restoration program was conducted by order of Congress, and in 1997, the building became the home of the National Building Museum.
The Great Hall has hosted Inaugural balls since Grover Cleveland’s election and can be rented for seminars, product launches, and your own grand social event.
Images credits: National Building Museum, and a special thank you the White House Photo Office for the photo of President Obama and the First Lady
Awards and certifications
Below are the awards and accolades gained by National Building Museum
National Building Museum
401 F Street NW
Washington DC 20001