October 13, 2017


Overview: Construction

Construction: $500M Project Third-Largest in DC Metro Area

In early 2015, more than 550 engineers, architects and other construction experts began the restoration, adaptation and enhancement of a former refrigeration warehouse. Originally built in 1922, this warehouse would eventually become the 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible. After gaining designation as a historical landmark, the museum’s first step in the construction of the $500-million project (estimated cost of real estate, demolition and new construction) was the surgical removal of a 1982 addition to the historical building, followed by the challenging removal of the roof and every other floor of the warehouse to expand the floor-to-ceiling heights required for modern museum exhibits.

The exterior structure of the building was completed and celebrated by the construction team, board of directors and other friends of the project at a “topping out” ceremony in September 2016. The finishing touches on the atrium glass roof were completed in early 2017.

Opened on Nov. 17, 2017, it's located at the intersection of D and 4th Streets in the capital’s southwestern quadrant, where Museum of the Bible is the newest addition to Washington’s pantheon of great museums. 

Construction Timeline

Key construction dates include:

  • July 30, 2012: Announced purchase of Washington Design Center
  • Feb. 12, 2015: Construction began with surgical demolition of 1980s addition to historic structure
  • Sept. 13, 2016: “Topping out” celebration for exterior completion
  • Nov. 2016: Completion of interior and exhibit installations began
  • Nov. 17, 2017: Grand opening


Project Scope and Process

Construction for Museum of the Bible was performed in two existing buildings encompassing a full city block and included two major renovations, plus additions to the former warehouse.

The historic brick façade remains in place as a tribute to the neighborhood, while the selective demolition of existing floors to create double-height spaces required careful coordination of the structural retrofit of existing concrete columns with steel plate reinforcing. Each floor was doubled to approximately 20 feet in height.

Rarely, because of the technical challenges involved, are buildings ever expanded downward. Yet, Museum of the Bible undertook this work to make space to house mechanical equipment. The construction team successfully performed a rare and innovative underpinning and support process to lower the basement level by five feet. There were 7,072 linear feet of driven piles used on the project—13 times the height of the Washington Monument. 

The massive original train portal has been adapted to serve as the museum’s monumentally scaled, 40-foot entrance. A non-historical building addition with loading dock was removed to make way for two levels of below-grade space and vertical circulation. The existing warehouse’s original red-brick masonry and concrete structure’s restrained classical features and ornamentation—colossal base, pilasters and cantons; entablature with ornamented frieze; bands of classical moldings; and monumental gate—are now restored.

An additional three levels of new construction were built above the existing historical structure to house a 472-seat performing arts hall, gathering space, biblical-foods restaurant and exhibit spaces. These new spaces contain iconic rooftop elements, including a two-story curved wall with channel-glass infill, skylights and a sustainable vegetative roof.

In addition to the construction project on the historic building, Museum of the Bible also purchased the “air rights” to the adjacent Washington Office Center. A one-story addition above the building also was added to include a gathering space and educational facilities for scholars associated with the museum’s research arm, Museum of the Bible Scholars Initiative.

Lead Construction/Architecture/Engineering Consultants

Clark Construction led construction efforts for Museum of the Bible. With annual revenue in excess of
$4 billion, Clark is consistently ranked among the country’s largest general building and civil companies. Clark is currently the largest builder of religious and cultural projects, according to Engineering-News Record. The company recently completed the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and is currently building the International Spy Museum’s new location, the National Law Enforcement Museum and the National Museum of the United States Army. Brian Flegel, a senior vice president, is the project’s director of construction for Museum of the Bible.

Working alongside Clark Construction is architectural design firm SmithGroupJJR, the nation’s sixth-largest architecture/engineering firm, the world’s 27th-largest architecture practice and the world’s seventh-largest culture practice. Its portfolio includes the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian, as well as the current International Spy Museum building. The firm also designed the new Collections and Conservation Center for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. David Greenbaum, a vice president at SmithGroupJJR, is lead architect for the Museum of the Bible.