Cityscapes Revealed: Highlights from the Collection

December 3, 2005–January 7, 2013

This first-ever retrospective exhibition of the National Building Museum’s unique collection explores quintessentially American, 20th-century buildings from center-city mansions to main street storefronts and sleek downtown skyscrapers. Anchored by a series of large architectural elements, this walking tour of the cityscape is complemented by exquisitely detailed drawings; rare, early-20th-century photographs; and smaller-scale fragments from National Historic Landmarks—including the former U.S. Pension Building, the Museum’s extraordinary home.

Established in 1977, the Museum’s permanent collection holds a wealth of artifacts that illuminate virtually all aspects of America’s building heritage. This exhibition highlights the collection’s strength, namely the building materials, architectural styles, and construction practices that defined urban America from the end of the 19th through the first half of the 20th centuries.

Cityscapes Revealed affords close-up views of building details not otherwise seen. Some, such as the terra-cotta rosettes originally installed as part of the Museum’s cornice, are far above eye level. Others, such as the watercolors rendered by interior designer Ernest L. Brothers, are part of the design or construction process. By focusing on these details and many others, the exhibition draws attention to the imagination of the designer, the skill of the craftsman, the hand of the contractor, and the eye of the photographer—underscoring the myriad complexities of building and the importance of both individual talent and collaborative relationships. Though always present, these forces are sometimes easier to see and appreciate in buildings from the past. Even the keenest observers of the city make “new” discoveries, in plain sight, all the time. After taking this tour of the National Building Museum’s collection, we encourage you to undertake your own explorations of the city.


Baltimore–Washington Brick Distributor Council; Lt. Col. and Mrs. William Karl Konze; Samuel H. Kress Foundation; Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association; Gladding, McBean; Mrs. John W. Hechinger, Sr.; International Masonry Institute; International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers; Linda B. and Jonathan S. Lyons; Turner Construction Corporation; Honorable Robert W. and Louisa C. Duemling; Brick Industry Association; Marshall B. Coyne Foundation; Jessica and Henry Townsend; Sara Ann Bounds; Design Ways & Means – Perry Cofield, AIA; William L. Hopkins and Richard B. Anderson; F. Joseph Moravec; Restore Media, LLC; Karen and Langley Shook; and other generous contributors.