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Built to accommodate the growing number of staff for the U.S. Pension Bureau who extends support to the United States war veterans and their dependents, the National Building Museum (formerly Pension Bureau Building) was also used for social and political functions including inauguration balls. The fireproof building was constructed after a Senate appropriations Committee approved a $250,000 budget for the completion of the Bureau?s headquarters in the state of Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs was appointed as both the architect and engineer of what is now one of the great American buildings of the nineteenth century and one of Washington, D.C.?s most spectacular works of public architecture. The design of the Pension Bureau Building was modeled after Rome's Palazzo Farnese and the Palazzo della Cancelleria, both Italian Renaissance style. From the outside, a frieze or a decorative sculpture by Caspar Buberl depicting 28 scenes featuring Civil War soldiers, adorns the surrounding walls of the building. More than 15 million bricks were used as primary building material that even ordinary, Meigs employed expert bricklayers and used pressed red brick to achieve the building's regular, smooth face. Ornamental terra cotta and painted plaster on brick surfaces were also utilized.

The interior of the building is dominated by a grand central space, the Great Hall that features a central fountain, divided by colossal Corinthian columns which were inspired by the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Rome built by Michelangelo in the mid-sixteenth century. Innovative and modern artificial ventilation system was designed to create a continuous flow of fresh air throughout the building allowing the Great Hall to function as a reservoir for light and air. The stairs were designed to have a gradual ascent with low steps making it more accommodating to disabled and aging veterans.

The Pension Bureau Building was occupied by federal government tenants through the 1960s and was left in very poor condition and was considered for demolition. However, through the pressure from conservationists, the building was proposed by architect Chloethiel Woodard Smith to be restored for use as a museum of the building arts, thus, becoming the National Building Museum. The Pension Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. Congress passed a resolution in 1978 calling for the preservation of the building as a national treasure, and a 1980 Act of Congress authorized the creation of the National Building Museum as a private, nonprofit educational institution. Today, the museum features subjects about architecture, design, engineering, construction, and urban planning and holds temporary exhibits visited by people from around the world. Moreover, the museum hosts the filming of the annual Christmas in Washington program with the President and the First Lady. The museum also brought into existence the Museum Shop, recognized in local and national media as the best museum shop in the country.
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