The restored main hall of the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building.

Applause: Landmark Restored

The Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building stands center stage on the National Mall. Also known as the Castle, it’s embellished with Gothic Revival spires and porticoes—an indelible red-brick presence among white marble and limestone companions. Built in 1879, this historic landmark is the second oldest building in the Smithsonian system, and was used to house temporary exhibits and events. Time took its toll, however, and SmithGroupJJR was tapped in 1999 to begin a long-term revitalization. In 2003, structural issues necessitated its closure to the public.

“There was structural fatigue and worry that the roof would collapse in snow,” says architect Hal Davis, who spearheaded the project.  By 2015, the brick-and-stone exterior was stabilized, the outer shell restored and the slate roof replaced. The interior structure was next. “It was an important building from the standpoint of innovation,” Davis observes. The original design “tried to show what was happening in construction in 1880. We preserved what we could of its existing fabric.”

In the main hall (pictured), visible high-string steel trusses replicate the original cast-iron ones, compromised over time. A new metal ceiling duplicates the original, as do glazed, insulated windows featuring the same distinctive milky cast as the 19th-century ones.

The next phase will restore plaster, stenciling, tilework and more. In the meantime, the building, which has received architectural awards for craftsmanship and historic preservation, is once again open for events and special exhibits.

RESTORATION ARCHITECTURE: HAL DAVIS, FAIA, NCARB, SmithGroupJJR, Washington, DC. CONTRACTOR: Grunley Construction Company, Rockville, Maryland.