The New Skylight

When the National Museum of American History reopens in the summer of 2008, visitors will enter a dramatically transformed space. One of the most spectacular new features will be apparent with natural light flooding the center of the building, reaching all the way down through the new glass staircase to the first floor. Looking straight up, visitors will see the skylight, shining a new light on American history.

Making the skylight a reality is more complicated than simply cutting a hole in the roof. Before construction began, designers conducted a study on the effects of allowing sunlight into the Museum. The location of the skylight was chosen to bring in the most light possible while protecting the artifacts on display. In fact, sunlight will never directly enter the skylight and reach the Museum floor. Based on the sun's path over the building throughout the year, the sunlight will be reflected off of the walls of the skylight's opening as it comes into the building.

Before the holes could be cut, workers had to reinforce the area around the skylight, and build a temporary "doghouse" on the roof to protect the building from the elements while the work is being completed. At this moment, construction workers are moving from the top down, cutting through the roof, as well as the ceilings of the fourth and third floors. The skylight opening will be smallest at the top — 15 feet by 27 feet — and increase in width down through the central atrium.

What happens on cloudy days? A supplemental lighting system above the skylight will add illumination to the central atrium. Therefore, the skylight can always add to the ambiance of the space.

The skylight is a critical part of the overall transformation, helping to create a brighter, warmer, more inviting atmosphere in the heart of the nation's history museum. You can help the Museum make this skylight and the rest of the transformation become reality. Make a tax-deductible gift today to help bring new light to American history.

Learn More about the Renovation

The Museum has begun a major architectural transformation to focus on three areas: architectural enhancements to the museum’s interior, constructing a state-of-the-art gallery for the Star-Spangled Banner and updating the 42-year-old building’s infrastructure (mechanical, electrical, plumbing, lighting, fire and security systems.) Learn more.

Doghouse, exterior view

Doghouse, interior view

Second Floor, National Mall Entrance
New interior vistas, a skylight, and a five-story atrium transform the center of the building