NATIONAL BUILDING MUSEUM
an illustrated timeline
Construction on the Pension
Building, the future home of the
National Building Museum,
Pension Building construction completed.
The finished building contains
15,500,000 bricks and costs
$886,614.04 to construct.
1882 1884 1885 1887
Pension Bureau moves into the building.
President Grover Cleveland’s inaugural
ball, the first to take place in the Pension
Building, is held in the Great Hall
President Benjamin Harrison’s President William McKinley’s second
inaugural ball. inaugural ball.
1889 1897 1901 1909
President William McKinley’s first President William Taft’s inaugural ball.
The Government Accounting
Office moves into a new
building across G Street.
Various other tenants,
including the Civil Service
Commission and the Superior
Court of the District of
Columbia occupy the building
until 1980, when restoration
work for the creation of the
National Building Museum
Pension Bureau moves to
Government Accounting Office (GAO)
moves into the building.
In the early 1960s, the General Services
Administration (GSA) considers
demolishing the building. Under pressure
from preservationists, GSA commissions
Washington architect Chloethiel Woodard
Smith to explore other possibilities for its
use. The result is the 1967 report, “The
Pension Building: A Building in Search of
a Client,” which introduces the idea of
converting the building into a museum of An Act of Congress
the building arts. mandates the creation of
Committee for the the National Building
Museum of the Building Museum as a private,
Arts is formed. nonprofit educational
institution. The Act
establishes a private-
Pension Building listed on Congress passes a public partnership btween
the National Register of resolution calling for the the GSA, the Department
Historic Places preservation of the of the Interior, and the
building as a national Museum
1967 1969 1973 1975 1978 1980
President Richard Nixon’s
The annual holiday television special Christmas in
Washington is taped in the Great Hall for the first time.
The National Building Museum has hosted Christmas
in Washington every year since.
Extensive renovation and adaptive
reuse work begins on the Pension
Building to restore it to its nineteenth-
1980 1981 1982
President Ronald First issue of Blueprints, the Museum’s first
Reagan’s inaugural ball. publication. A quarterly journal devoted to all
aspects of the building arts and the built
Bates Lowry is named the first director of environment, Blueprints discusses topics ranging
the National Building Museum. from urban skyscrapers to suburban housing to
The Museum expands its permanent collection with
the acquisition of the Wurts Brothers Photography
Collection. This internationally recognized collection,
comprising some 20,000 prints and negatives, is the
Museum’s largest and most significant photographic
archives until 2006.
The Museum begins
its docent program.
1982 1983 1985
The Museum receives an unprecedented On October 24, 1985, the National Building Museum
gift of 50,000 drawings created by the opens to the public with four exhibitions, anchored by
Northwestern Terra Cotta Company Building a National Image: Architectural Drawings for
between 1900 and 1954. The collection the American Democracy. In the same year, the Pension
remains one of the largest and most Building is designated a National Historic Landmark.
valuable of its kind.
The Museum holds its first Festival of the Building
Arts, an all-day, all-ages festival that celebrates the
built environment. The Festival of the Building Arts
is a National Building Museum tradition that
Robert W. Duemling is
named President and
Director of the National
President Ronald Reagan’s second
1985 1986 1987
The Museum institutes its annual Honor Award to recognize
individuals and corporations that have made important
contributions to the nation’s built environment. The first
recipient is J. Irwin Miller, cited for his work to bring buildings
designed by America’s greatest architects to his native city of
A 65-foot-high, Frank Gehry-
designed sculpture is installed in
the Museum’s Great Hall by nearly
600 volunteers from the Sheet
Metal Workers’ International
Association and the Sheet Metal
and Air Conditioning Contractors’
National Association as part of the
Sheet Metal Craftsmanship:
Progress in Building exhibition.
The Museum opens its first
Washington: Symbol and
City, exploring the dynamic
tension between the twin
roles played by the capital
city. The first iteration of
the show is on view for 10
years. The second iteration
opens in 2004 and is still
1988 1989 1991
Restoration and renovation President George Bush’s inaugural ball.
efforts in the building are
The Museum launches the
Investigating Where We Live outreach
program that teaches local students
how to interpret Washington, D.C.,
neighborhoods through photography
and creative writing. The Museum launches its premier
lecture series, Spotlight on Design,
which features famous and cutting-
edge designers and architects from
around the world. Some notable
The Museum launches its speakers over the years have
CityVision outreach program included Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando,
for middle and junior high Rem Koolhaas, David Adjaye, Jean
school students, which Nouvel, and Steven Holl.
teaches participants how to
initiate and promote change
in their community through
1993 1994 1996
President Bill Clinton’s Susan Henshaw Jones is
first inaugural ball. appointed President and
Director of the Museum.
The Museum holds its first Discover
Engineering Family Night, which
would grow into the Zoom into
Engineering Festival in 2002 and
become the popular Discover
Engineering Family Day, which is still
held at the Museum today. From the
The Museum holds its first beginning, the event celebrates
Smart Growth lecture. The engineering and shows audiences of
Smart Growth speaker series all-ages how professional engineers
is a free, noontime program, turn an idea into reality.
presented in association with
the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, which
promotes dialogue and
research of sustainable
development strategies that
preserve community character
and protect the environment.
The Pension Building is
officially renamed the
National Building Museum.
President Bill Clinton’s The Museum begins its lecture series Building in the 21st
second inaugural ball. Century in partnership with the Department of Energy. The
series offers free noontime lectures focused on energy-efficient
and economical technologies and construction techniques.
The Museum establishes the Vincent Scully Prize to
recognize exemplary practice, scholarship or criticism
in architecture, historic preservation, and urban
design. The first recipient is the eminent architectural
The Museum’s most popular
exhibition to date, The White
House in Miniature, opens. On
average, 22,661 visitors tour the
exhibition each month during its
five and half month run.
The Washington Post names
the National Building Museum
A new outreach effort for area youth, the Design Shop “best in the city.”
Apprenticeship Program (DAP), begins. This 30-
hour program conducted on five-to-six consecutive
Saturdays offers students an intensive experience
in which they design and construct projects.
More than 1,600 people attend a
Spotlight on Design lecture by Frank
Gehry in the Great Hall. The lecture holds
the record for largest public lecture
attendance at the Museum.
The Museum receives the Mayor’s
Arts Award for Outstanding
In response to the attacks of
September 11th, the Museum
presents a year-long series of
exhibitions and education programs
titled Building in the Aftermath,
including the exhibitions Twin Towers
Remembered: Photographs by
Camilo José Vergara and A New
World Trade Center: Design
Proposals, opening in 2002. The Henry C. Turner Prize for Innovation in
Construction Technology, endowed by the Turner
Construction Company, is created. The first
recipient is the noted structural engineer Leslie E.
2001 2002 2003
President George W. Bush’s first inaugural ball. Chase W. Rynd is appointed
executive director and president
of the National Building Museum.
As the issue of sustainability
comes to the forefront, the
Museum opens the exhibition Big
& Green: Toward Sustainable
Architecture in the 21st Century,
which explores environmentally-
friendly designs for skyscrapers
and other megastructures.
This Old House films master carpenter Norm
Abram touring the Museum’s acclaimed
exhibition Do-It-Yourself: Home Improvement The Museum opens the
in 20th-Century America with curator immensely popular Liquid Stone:
Chrysanthe Broikos and creates a one-hour New Architecture in Concrete
TV special based on the exhibition. exhibition, featuring the public
debut of translucent concrete.
President George W. Bush’s
second inaugural ball.
The Museum launches the
Bridge Basics Curriculum Kit
for national audiences. The kit is
introduced into schools in
Washington, D.C., followed by
schools in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, in June of 2009.
The Museum constructs a full-scale replica of
architect Michelle Kaufmann’s Glidehouse in its
blockbuster exhibition The Green House: New
Directions in Sustainable Architecture and
Design, focused on the greening of residential
architecture. First Lady Laura Bush visits the
exhibition shortly after it opens in the summer of
In partnership with the American Planning Association, the Museum hosts
its first L’Enfant Lecture on City Planning and Design with Sir Peter Hall.
The lecture is established to draw attention to critical issues in city and
regional planning in the United States. Later L’Enfant lecturers include:
Enrique Peñalosa, Teddy Cruz, Paul Goldberger, and Barry Bergdoll.
The Museum expands its permanent collection with
the acquisition of the Architectural Toy Collection
and the Robert C. Lautman Photography Collection.
The Architectural Toy Collection is one
of the largest and most sophisticated of The Lautman Collection contains more than
its kind held in public trust within the 30,000 prints, transparencies, and negatives
United States. documenting American architectural trends
during the second half of the 20th century.
The Museum raises a record $1.28 million in
conjunction with its annual Honor Award gala, which
is presented to the prominent development firm
David Macaulay leads visitors in sketching
exercises just for fun and as a new way of
seeing and responding to their surroundings
during the Big Draw event celebrating the
exhibition David Macaulay: The Art of
The Museum launches For the Greener
Good: Conversations that Will
Change the World, a lecture series that
calls on experts from diverse
backgrounds to investigate links
between environmental sustainability
and design, public health, energy policy,
bioscience, infrastructure, education,
and even popular culture.
The Museum opens the newly renovated
Beverly Willis Library named in honor of
founding trustee and pioneering architect
Beverly A. Willis, FAIA. The 1,900-square-
foot facility serves as a multi-purpose
resource center with library, study center,
and conference room.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers her
concession speech for the Democratic Presidential
nomination to then-Senator Barack Obama in the
Museum’s Great Hall.
The Museum launches its redesigned
web site with new multimedia content
and increased opportunities for online
engagement with constituents.
The Museum begins its fellowship program with its first
Field Visiting Scholars. Fellowships at the National Building
Museum provide scholars with opportunities to pursue
independent research related to the Museum’s potential or
planned exhibitions or its permanent collections.
The Museum’s school programs have
record-breaking attendance, welcoming
more than 20,000 students during the
The Museum launches its Industry Council
for the Built Environment. The annual event
attracts leaders who determine and
influence the quality of our built world.
On November 14-15, the National President Barack Obama’s inaugural ball.
Building Museum hosts the G-20
Leaders Summit on Financial
Markets and the World Economy.
A team from Virginia Tech completes
construction of the Lumenhaus, its 2009
Solar Decathlon entry, on the Museum’s
The 2010 National
Cherry Blossom Family
Day and Opening
Ceremony sets a record
for the number visitors to
the Museum in a single
day at 12,354.
The Museum hosts the World Habitat Day 2009 The Museum sets a record for annual
celebrations in the Great Hall. Speakers include U.S. attendance with 436,315 visitors.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun
Donovan and musician and activist Jon Bon Jovi.