Guide to the National Building Museum in Washington DC

DC's Museum on Architecture and Urban Planning

National Building Museum.

Maxwell MacKenzie

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National Building Museum

401 F St NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
Phone +1 202-272-2448

The National Building Museum, located in downtown Washington, DC, examines America's architecture, design, engineering, construction, and urban planning. The exhibits include photographs and models of buildings in Washington, DC and offer insight into the history and future of our built environment. New collections are often on display to keep visitors interested in returning. The museum offers a variety of educational programs and special events, including informative lectures, interesting demonstrations and great family programs.

Housed in the former Pension Bureau building that dates back to 1887, the National Building Museum is recognized as a marvel of architectural engineering. The exterior design was inspired by the monumentally-scaled Palazzo Farnese, completed to Michelangelo’s specifications in 1589.  The building's interior is reminiscent of the early-sixteenth-century Palazzo della Cancelleria. The Great Hall is impressive with its 75 feet high Corinthian columns and open four-story atrium. The building offers a grand space that can be rented by corporations, associations, private foundations and government agencies for evening events. The museum has been the site of numerous Presidential Inaugural balls and is the host location for the National Cherry Blossom Festival Family Day each spring.

Permanent Exhibit Highlights

  • Building Zone: This is a hands-on play area designed for ages 2-6. Children can build a tower or wall, drive a construction play truck, read an architecture book, explore a life-sized greenhouse and more.
  • Cool & Collected, Recent Acquisitions: The exhibit features a wide range of recent additions to the Museum's extensive collection including items such as photographs and floor plans of underground homes, pieces of decorative terra cotta—a lightweight, fireproof building material—from several important buildings in Chicago and New York City and the work of local sculptor Raymond Kaskey who sculpted panels that are part of the World War II Memorial.
  • House & Home: The exhibit takes visitors on a tour of houses both familiar and surprising, through past and present, challenging our ideas about what it means to live at home in America.
  • PLAY WORK BUILD: The immersive, hands-on installation is fun for all ages, featuring molded foam blocks of all shapes and sizes and an original virtual block play experience.

Getting to the National Building Museum

Address: 401 F Street NW Washington, DC. The museum is located just 4 blocks from the National Mall, across the street from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. The closest Metro stations are Judiciary Square and Gallery Place/Chinatown.

Museum Hours

Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm.  The Building Zone closes at 4 pm. The Museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.


Admission to the Great Hall and docent-led tours of the historic building are free of charge. The prices below include access to all galleries, including Play Work Build, House & Home, Building Zone and docent-led exhibition tours, where available.

  • $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
  • Free for Museum members, children age 2 and under, active-duty military and their families


Tours of the National Building Museum are offered Monday through Wednesday at 12:30 pm, and Thursday through Sunday at 11:30 am, 12:30 pm, and 1:30 pm. Reservations are required for groups of 10 or more.


Museum Shop: The National Building Museum gift shop offers a variety of unique items relating to the building arts as well as office items, jewelry, educational toys, books, and more. You may shop online.

Museum Café: Firehook Bakery and Coffee House offer a variety of sandwiches, soups, salads, baked goods, and beverages.


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Guide to the National Building Museum in Washington DC