Layoffs at National Building Museum

John Hill
26. May 2020
The Great Hall during the Lawn installation in 2019 (Photo: Timothy Schenck, courtesy of National Building Museum)

The National Building Museum in Washington, DC — home to the recently refurbished Great Hall, a popular event venue and scene of summer installations — has laid off two-thirds of its staff, according to reports.

DCist reported last week that "the National Building Museum is permanently cutting two-thirds of its staff, citing loss of revenue due to the pandemic." Those cuts came less than a month after the museum put much of its staff on furlough. Forty positions are being eliminated as of June 1st, leaving eighteen "core staff who are on partial furlough and two staff members working on grant-based projects." Ironically, the private nonprofit museum is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, having been created by an act of Congress in 1980.

This news is disheartening, as the NBM is one of the few architecture-related museums in the U.S., but also because the museum's recovery will be slow, since its income depends to a large degree on the rental of its Great Hall for events. While most museums this century are designed with such secondary income in mind — incorporating large spaces for fundraising, parties, and other gatherings — none of them come compare to the massive Great Hall at the center of the National Building Museum, which occupies the late 19th-century U.S. Pension Bureau. 

The Great Hall during a 2016 event (Photo: Jesse A. Hyatt/DoD)

Having closed for three months in the winter for the repair of the floor of the Great Hall, the museum's reopening was set for March 13th, the same day President Trump issued a state of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic. Although the museum may be able to reopen for exhibitions in the near future, it will probably be many months after that before income-generating events can be held there again.

BIG's HOT TO COLD exhibition in 2015 arrayed models around the Great Hall (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

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