Saturday, August 16, 2008


The Great Hall in the National Building Museum as seen from the mezzanine.
These Corinthian columns--among the tallest in the world--were inspired by
Santa Maria degli Angeli, a church built by Michaelangelo in the 16th Century in Rome.

Sorry for the lateness of today's entry. My dad came over at 5:30 this morning and we worked until nearly 3:00, then it was off to meet my mom to see my pictures in a photo competition I entered last month. Earlier this week, I was downtown getting a haircut and decided to take advantage of being within walking distance of the National Building Museum.

Built between 1882 and 1887, this structure was originally built to house the U.S. Pension Bureau. U.S. Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, who suggested the Custis-Lee Estate in Arlington as the location for a national military cemetery and who oversaw construction of the wings and dome of the U.S. Capitol, among other engineering projects, drew up the plans for this building, which he called his "finest achievement." It would also be the last building Miegs would build.

L: The National Building Museum from the west side.
R: One of four sculptures on the corner of the property of the NBM.
(Click images to enlarge.)

Unlike most of the buildings in Washington, which follow a Greco-Roman design, Meigs chose Italian Renaissance design and mirrored elements from 16th century buildings designed and built by Michaelangelo. The exterior perimeter is made up office and exhibit space, while the interior features a soaring great hall divided into three sections and separated by some of the tallest Corinthian columns in the world.

L: A bas relief frieze in ornamental terra cotta and painted plaster encircles the building.
R: Models of Eero Saarinen's St. Louis Arch and Dulles International Airport are part of an
exhibit about this future-looking architect. (Click images to enlarge.)

By the 1960s, the building was falling into disrepair and the government almost tore it down. Thanks to people with an appreciation for the building and some foresight, it was list on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1980, Congress passed an act mandating the creation of a museum dedicated to the art and science of building. Thus was born the National Building Museum. Today, it hosts a number of special exhibits, including a current exhibit featuring the work of architect Eero Saarinen. Saarinen designed the St. Louis Arch and Dulles International Airport, among other buildings, structures, and furnishings. The Great Hall is often used for inaugural parties and other events in Washington. Recently, it was the site of Hillary Clinton's campaign suspension speech at the end of the Democratic caucuses and primaries.

Another view of the Great Hall from the ground floor.

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 08/08


marley said...

The Great Hall is stunning! Those pillars, wow!

Virginia said...

How in this world did I miss this on my last visit? This was worth waiting for. It is just amazing. Those columns are fabulous. Glad to know your late post was do to good ole hard work. I was just getting ready to email and check on you. We need to hear about your photo exhibit. How exciting!

JM said...

The hall is fantastic but the pillars... wow!!! Everytime i see some really big ones I remember Karnak, in Egypt...

Wayne said...

I wasn't aware of the NBM. If I make it to DC it will be on list of must-sees.

Thanks giving us a look.

D.C. Confidential said...

Marley: I was stunned, too! I've lived here more than five years and this was the first time I'd been in the NBM. I'll definitely be going back.

VJ: It's an easy one to overlook, but one that should definitely be visited, especially since it's free! As for the photo competition, I posted about it on Aug. 5; here's the link.

JM: Aren't they amazing? One day, I'd like to see Karnak.

Wayne: I would definitely list this as a must-see. The columns are worth it, and it's halfway between the National Gallery of Art and the National Portrait Gallery--both of which are fabulous museums!

Lara said...

nice presentation! the place is amazing, and your photos really do justice to this building!

USelaine said...

You captured the symmetry of the arches perfectly! I'll bet you did very well at the photography show.

Isadora said...

OMG - slap my face! All the years I've spent in DC I've never been to this building??? BUT, I'm planning to visit in March - would you be so kind and show it to me?

D.C. Confidential said...

Lara: Thanks! It is an amazing building.

USElaine: Thank you. As for the photography competition, it's been fun.

Isadora: I've lived here five years and only just stepped into this building last week! And, yes, when you're here in March, I would be happy to show you this building.

Maya said...

The shots of the inside with the columns are really nice. It looks huge! Those columns are really impressive.

Anonymous said...

That is a VERY impressive building!

Great work on your blog today and a very appropriate picture.

I've just racked up two years at South Shields Daily Photo and I hope to be passing here in two years time to compliment you again! Keep up the good work!
Thanks to everyone who has passed by and left a comment or some encouragement, it makes it all worthwhile.

from Curly at South Shields Daily Photo

D.C. Confidential said...

Curly: It is rather impressive!

Congratulations on your two years of blogging. I'm heading over your way to check out your work.

The Artful Eye said...

This great hall is stunning. The top photo is surreal in that the columns seem to bow. I actually have slides from the Santa Maria degli Angeli in Rome. This place is incredible in person.

D.C. Confidential said...

Andrea: The columns bow in the first picture, because I forgot to take off my wide angle lens. Without that little phenomenon of photography, they're actually 100% vertical. I'd love to see Santa Maria degli Angeli!

kunal bhatia said...

hey, i was around DC for a weeks this june. and i did visit the NBM, albeit only for 2 hours; all of which were btw spent in their store.. i didn't get time to visit the museum exhibits at all :(
- Mindless Mumbai

D.C. Confidential said...

Kunal: That's funny! I spent time in the great hall and the Saarinen exhibit, but never made it into the gift shop! Actually, I purposefully avoided it because I knew if I went in, I'd spend money.