Architects, construction workers, engineers, interior and landscape designers, urban planners (and small children aspiring to be any of the above), this museum is for you. The National Building Museum focuses on the built environment and its impact on people’s lives, with a noticeable emphasis on sustainable design. Through its exhibits, public programs and festivals, the Building Museum explores past, current and future designs for the places where humans live and work. Exhibits have focused on topics ranging from green communities, to cityscapes, parking garages, contemporary slums and storefront churches.
There are many family-friendly activities at the Building Museum. Children ages 2-6 will enjoy the Building Zone where they can build towers, drive construction trucks and wear hard hats. Families can pick up a Tool Kit and activity booklets with things to do while exploring the museum. And everyone will enjoy building a 7-foot-tall soft block arch in the museum’s Great Hall.
The museum occupies one of the most significant late 19th century buildings in the city of Washington. Formerly known as the Pension Building, it was constructed between 1882 and 1887 to house the U.S. Pension Bureau. Many of the pensioners would have been Civil War soldiers whom you can see depicted in an exterior 1,200 foot long terra cotta frieze.
From its inception, the Pension Building’s secondary purpose was to provide a grand space for social functions. The Great Hall features eight massive Corinthian columns (among the tallest classical columns in the world), a fountain 28 feet in diameter and soaring ceiling. To this day, it is used as a venue for elaborate galas, including President Obama’s Commander-in-Chief Inaugural Ball in 2009.
Check the museum’s website before visiting for updates on current exhibits and information on family activities. Activities are sometimes cancelled due to private events being held at the museum. For more information, visit www.nbm.org.
National Building Museum
Admission: Free access to the Great Hall, historic building tours, Museum Shop, & cafe.
Free: Museum members; children aged 2 and under
Parking: Limited metered parking on 5th, F, and G Streets (check meter carefully for hours of operation). Commercial parking lots/garages are located on F Street between 6th and 7th Streets, D Street between 8th and 9th Streets, and at the corner of 7th and H Streets.
Metrorail: Judiciary Square on the Red line, Gallery Place/Chinatown on the Yellow and Green lines.
Old Town Trolley Tours