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
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More Information

www.si.edu
en.wikipedia.org

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4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Pither Temoteo (3 years ago)
Good place to visit especially to see the building. But nothing so special you will see inside there. It can be a good opportunity to learn more about Smithsonian history.
Matthew Ball (3 years ago)
Amazing network of museums! I loved what I was able to see, you definitely can't experience it all in one day. The exhibits and collections were awesome, I definitely want to go back and see more.
Miki Cohen (3 years ago)
Lovely place, opens early in the day. Small cafe and well maintained restrooms are a heaven when walking the national mall with kids before 10am (everything is still closed). Service is excellent and the castle itself is very impressive.
Jonathan Tringali (3 years ago)
This place looks awesome from the outside, but you won't miss much if you don't go in. There it's a good place inside to help you plan out visits to the other Smithsonian locations (if you don't have access to the websites or Google maps). The small snack bar is pricey, a small bottle of water is nearly $4... Stick to the street vendors selling the same thing for $1. Again, nothing lost if you just take a picture of the building while walking past.
Sanjay Gupta (3 years ago)
Visitor center…Amazing architecture, looks totally diff in zones of same boring buildings This castle is basically a welcome visitor center. Almost all the museums are free in DC and when I tried to find out why I got to know, it was James Smithson who was a British scientist who left his estate to the United States to found “at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Few art pieces are kept here but this is more of the visitor center and information center guys are great. James gave me all kind of information I needed. There is one big DC map replica lighten with led and you can give your destination on computer screens and it ll show you how you can go there from the castle. it was cool. I also tried to mint Abraham Lincoln coin at one of the kiosks. There is one mosaic kiosk, where you can get you to photo in a mosaic way and email to your ID. Security will check all your bags at all entrances and guards are everywhere in each room. They are friendly and helpful. The building was superb, red stone, architecture was great. Behind this building, there is the Arts and Industries Building which is closed now. All museum comes under Smithsonian Institution and they are the one who maintains it.
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