From its prominent place on the National Mall, the Castle, as it is affectionately known, houses the administrative offices for Smithsonian staff as well as the central visitor center. A great starting point for your deep dive into all things Smithsonian, the visitor center has all the information you need to help you plan your visit.
Designed by American architect James Renwick, Jr., this historic landmark was built in the Norman style, a style that was commonly used for European castles and churches in the 11th and 12th centuries. The style is characterized by awe-inspiring proportions, rounded arches, and decorative moldings. As you walk through the building guided by the Smithsonian Mobile app or on a docent-led Castle Highlight Tour, be sure to notice the geometry and symmetry that went into the design.
As with many other D.C. buildings, it has been through several periods of reconstruction and restoration. After a fire destroyed large portions of the building in January 1865, it underwent a major reconstruction project. in the late 1960s, modern conveniences like air conditioning and elevators were added and the interior had a makeover. In her self-guided geological tour of Washington, D.C., Lily Strelich, a former congressional intern, notes that the Castle is built out of red sandstone from a local quarry. She explains that the color gets richer with age as it continues to oxidize. If you want to know more about the source of the sandstone, try Garrett Peck’s book, The Smithsonian Castle and the Seneca Quarry.
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