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Architectural History

Entrance to Renovated Building

The Smithsonian American Art Museum's main building, a dazzling showcase for American art and portraiture, is a National Historic Landmark and is considered one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the United States. Several important early American architects were involved in the original design of the building, including Robert Mills (1781-1855) and Thomas U. Walter (1804-1887). Begun in 1836 and completed in 1868, it is one of the oldest public buildings constructed in early Washington. The Smithsonian American Art Museum's branch for craft and decorative arts, the Renwick Gallery, is steps from the White House in the heart of historic federal Washington. Its Second Empire-style building, also a National Historic Landmark, was designed by architect James Renwick Jr. in 1859 and completed in 1874.

Renovation of a Glorious Landmark Building

The Smithsonian American Art Museum shares its historic main building with the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. The museums are the centerpiece of a revitalized downtown Washington, D.C. with a shared main entrance at 8th and F Streets, on the south side of the building. In the 1990s, the Smithsonian embarked on a plan to restore the building, and to create innovative new public facilities through a public-private partnership. The recent renovation (2000-2006) revealed the full magnificence of the building's exceptional architectural features, such as the porticos modeled after the Parthenon in Athens, a curving double staircase, colonnades, vaulted galleries, large windows, and skylights as long as a city block. Full circulation on all three floors for the public has been restored. Extraordinary effort was made to use new preservation technologies to restore the historic fabric of the building and re-use historic materials. Check out the renovation of our grand building in this slide show feature!

A 19th-century Landmark with 21st-century Enhancements

Two innovative and bold new public spaces are open to museum visitors: the Lunder Conservation Center and the Luce Foundation Center for American Art. In addition, the Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium and the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard are major enhancements that make this a destination museum for the 21st century.


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