Architectural History of the National Air and Space Museum, 1972

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  • A 1946 Congressional Act formally established the National Air Museum, but it wasn't until the space race of the 1960s that Congress authorized $40 million for the construction of a building to house the museum. Construction began in 1972, lead by chief architect Gyo Obata from the Saint Louis based architectural firm Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum. The challenge was to build a structure large enough to house full sized air craft and space craft and large crowds, while still keeping within the architectural flow of the National Mall. The building was also expected to be modern enough to reflect the idea of space exploration.
  • The modern style building boasts seven seemingly separate bays, with three of the bays recessed in an effort to prevent the large building from overpowering others on the Mall. The exterior alternates Tennessee marble and glass, and both ends of the building boast glass walls that are removal in order to bring in large artifacts. Only the glass wall on the west end of the building is still active. The design also included a large-format IMAX theater, the first in Washington, D.C.
  • The National Air and Space Museum opened to the public in 1976, and little about the building has changed with the exception of the addition of a restaurant.


  • Obata, Gyo 1923-
  • Smithsonian Institution Bicentennial (Event)
  • Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum
  • National Air and Space Museum
  • National Air and Space Museum Lockheed Martin Theater
  • IMAX Corporation
  • Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center


Chronology of Smithsonian History


Ewing, H., & Ballard, A. (2009). A guide to Smithsonian architecture. Washington: Smithsonian Books.

Contact information

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


  • 1972-1976
  • 20th century


  • Airplanes
  • Architecture
  • Space shuttles
  • Boeing airplanes
  • Museums
  • Museum architecture
  • Space flight
  • Architecture, Modern
  • Space vehicles


Washington (D.C.)

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