Smithsonian Institution Building

Washington, D.C., United States

The Smithsonian Institution Building is constructed of Seneca red sandstone in the faux Norman style (a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs; built in the Gothic and Romanesque revival styles) and is nicknamed The Castle. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965. A statue of Joseph Henry is displayed in front of the building.

The Castle was the first Smithsonian building, designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. The building committee held a nationwide design competition in 1846 and selected Renwick's design by a unanimous vote.

The construction began in 1847. The East Wing was completed in 1849 and occupied by Secretary Joseph Henry and his family. The West Wing was completed later the same year. A structural collapse in 1850 of partly completed work raised questions of workmanship and resulted in a change to fireproof construction. The Castle's exterior was completed in 1852; Renwick's work was completed and he withdrew from further participation. Cameron continued the interior work, which he completed in 1855.

Despite the upgraded fireproof construction, a fire in 1865 caused extensive damage to the upper floor of the building, destroying the correspondence of James Smithson, Henry's papers, two hundred oil paintings of American Indians by John Mix Stanley, the Regent's Room and the lecture hall, and the contents of the public libraries of Alexandria, Virginia and Beaufort, South Carolina, confiscated by Union forces during the American Civil War. The ensuing renovation was undertaken by local Washington architect Adolf Cluss in 1865-67. Further fireproofing work ensued in 1883, also by Cluss, who by this time had designed the neighboring Arts and Industries Building. A third and fourth floor were added to the East Wing, and a third floor to the West Wing.

The Smithsonian Castle houses the administrative offices of the Smithsonian. The main Smithsonian visitor center is also located here, with interactive displays and maps. Computers electronically answer most common questions. A crypt just inside the north entrance houses the tomb of James Smithson.



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Founded: 1847-1855
Category: Miscellaneous historic sites in United States

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User Reviews

Terri Taylor Tattan (6 months ago)
The gardens surrounding the Smithsonian Castle are just stunning! There are several different areas to meander through, each with an enormous variety of plants. There are also beautiful seating areas to relax in. Take time to visit the plants all around the premises. Well worth a visit.
Swadhapriya Sarma (9 months ago)
The Smithsonian Castle is a true gem that encapsulates the spirit of exploration and knowledge. Its architectural elegance and unique design make it a captivating focal point within the National Mall. Upon stepping inside, I was enchanted by the intricate details and the sense of history that permeates the space. The exhibits and information provided a fantastic overview of the diverse wonders housed within the various Smithsonian museums. The helpful staff and interactive displays added to the educational experience. Whether you're planning to visit the other museums or not, the Smithsonian Castle itself is a delightful starting point, igniting curiosity and setting the tone for a memorable journey of discovery.
Sayak Das (10 months ago)
The Smithsonian Castle in DC is an absolute masterpiece! ?? Stepping inside feels like a journey through time and knowledge. The architecture is stunning, with intricate details that make it a true gem in the National Mall. The exhibits and displays are thought-provoking, offering a wealth of information on history, culture, and science. The staff is friendly and eager to assist visitors with any questions. The Castle's central location makes it a perfect starting point to explore the many Smithsonian museums nearby. A definite 5-star rating for this iconic landmark that embodies the spirit of learning and discovery! ?️? #SmithsonianCastle #IconicLandmark #KnowledgeHub #DiscoverDC #CultureAndHistory #MustVisitSpot #FiveStarExperience"
Gwendolyn R Houston-Jack (10 months ago)
Be sure the Smithsonian Castle is on your list when you're out museum and memorial hopping. It's a beautiful building and the anchor in this area. It's surrounded by a number of gardens and is quite calming.
Devon Wood (13 months ago)
The Smithsonian Castle in Washington D.C. is a stunning Gothic Revival building with red sandstone walls, turrets, and towers. It sits on a hill and has beautiful gardens surrounding it. The sandstone walls are adorned with intricate carvings and decorative elements, making it a must-see for visitors to the area.
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