One of my favorite museums in Washington, D.C. is the National Building Museum. With it’s bright red brick exterior, this structure is one of the most unique buildings in the city. Originally called the Pension Building, its initial purpose was two-fold: to house the Pension Bureau and to act as a venue for the District’s many social and political galas. The Pension Bureau was a federal agency created to serve the needs of Union veterans. A beautifully-carved frieze wraps around the building, depicting a parade of military Civil War units and serving as a tribute to that significant period in American history.
The Pension Building became the National Building Museum almost 30 years ago. Since it’s not on the National Mall, it’s a hidden gem that few tourists get around to visiting. The museum offers a variety of permanent and revolving exhibits. Although these are fascinating (especially if you’re an architecture or engineering aficionado), what really draws us to this museum are the children’s activities. There is always something fun going on.
Maya’s favorite area is the Building Zone. It’s a special play space just for the museum’s youngest visitors, ages two to six. The Building Zone is made up of various stations – jumbo foam blocks, a book nook, puzzles and magnetic toys, dress-up area, ride-on bulldozers and trucks, giant Legos (and more!), with a huge playhouse in the center of it all.
It’s also lots of fun just to let M&M run around freely through the Great Hall, especially on a rainy or unbearably hot day. Because of the unique design of the roof, the building is airy and full of light. It’s completely carpeted, with a grand fountain as its centerpiece.
Most striking to me, though, are the Corinthian columns that divide the hall. Measuring 75 ft. (23 m) tall and 8 ft. (2.4 m) in diameter, they are among the largest in the world!
It’s in the Great Hall where social functions, such as Presidential inauguration balls, take place. Most recently, Hillary Clinton suspended her campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination at the museum.
If you look up towards the windows, you’ll see 244 busts, each in their own little alcove high above. There are 8 models, representing different building occupations – architect, developer, financier, engineer, construction worker, craftsman, bricklayer, and landscape architect.
The National Building Museum welcomes visitors to enjoy the Great Hall, Museum Shop, café, or a docent-led tour of the historic landmark building free of charge. The prices below include access to all galleries, including LEGO® Architecture and the Building Zone, and docent-led exhibition tours, where available.
- Free for museum members, children age 2 and under, and Memorial Day through Labor Day active-duty military and their families
- $8 for adults
- $5 for youth (ages 3 through 17), students with ID, and seniors (age 65 and over)
- $3 per person for the Building Zone only, the Museum’s hands-on building gallery for children 2 to 6
Don’t miss walking through the gift shop. It’s unlike any other I’ve ever been to. Items are a little pricey, but one-of-a-kind!