Sketches of the Smithsonian Institution Building's Lecture Hall

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  • This drawing shows architect James Renwick, Jr.'s, design for an amphitheater type lecture hall and includes a sketch which illustrates sight-lines from the audience to a speaker on the stage. The architect's original drawing is in pencil on paper. In 1846, Renwick produced a floor plan for the Smithsonian Institution Building, which included two lecture rooms: a large L-shaped theater on the first floor of the main building, and a smaller L-shaped one in the west wing. However, when the east wing was constructed in 1849, Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, had the lecture hall redone and worked with Renwick to improve its arrangement, acoustics, and ventilation. When the building opened in 1855 the large lecture room had been moved to the second floor and redesigned as a large amphitheater. The semi-circular design looks like the lecture room that was later installed on the second story.
  • When the hall opened, it was considered to have the best acoustics of any lecture hall in the City of Washington. James Renwick, Jr., began his design of the Smithsonian Institution Building with a Gothic castle and eventually reworked it into a Romanesque castle. This later scheme won him the competition in 1846 to appoint an architect for the design of the Smithsonian's first building.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Renwick, James 1818-1895
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (Washington, D.C.)
  • Smithsonian Institution Building Lecture Hall


Historic Images of the Smithsonian


Published in C. R. Field, R. E. Stamm, and H. P. Ewing, The Castle: An Illustrated History of the Smithsonian Building, Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993, pg.9.

Contained within

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 92, Item 294

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,



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  • Design
  • Engineering
  • Architecture
  • Acoustics
  • Drawings
  • Buildings
  • Architectural drawing
  • Architecture--Design and plans
  • Architectural design
  • Acoustical engineering


  • Paper
  • Drawing

ID Number


Physical description

Number of Images: 1 Color: Color Size: 10.5w x 7h ; Type of Image: Architectural Drawing ; Medium: Paper

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