Library of Congress Adams Building – Washington DC

Project type: Libraries, Federal Facilities
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The John Adams Building is one of three buildings of the Library of Congress. Congress passed a bill to fund an annex to the library in 1930, but construction did not take place until the mid-1930s, making it a New Deal project.  The building opened in January 1939.  It was known as ‘the Annex’ until the 1970s.

The original appropriation for the building was $6.5 million, which proved insufficient and an additional $2.8 million was added by the Public Works Administration (PWA) in 1935.  The total cost, including land and equipment, was $9.3 million.

The Adams Building was meant to supplement the Library’s Main Building, which had reached its capacity of 5 million volumes. The Adams building covers a city block and its five stories provide a floor area of 20 acres, with 180 miles of shelving and a capacity to store 10 million books.  In addition, there are large catalog and reading rooms and 172 study rooms arranged on two levels, each with outside light.

The design is a Classical Moderne with projecting facade at the entrance and on the flanks.   The exterior is faced with white marble. The top floor is recessed.  Capitol architect David Lynn was in charge of the project and commissioned the Washington, D.C. architectural firm of Pierson & Wilson to design the building, with Alexander Buel Trowbridge as consulting architect.

The main entrance on the north side of the building has three recessed doors. The west entrance (not currently used) is reached by a stairway graced by large stone Art Deco sculptures of owls. Both entrances have sculpted bronze doors and are flanked by elegant brass lamps.

Inside the main entrance is an elegant lobby with more bronze doors and marble floors.

The Adams building acquired its present name in 1980, which honors President John Adams who  approved the law establishing the Library of Congress in 1800. The original Library of Congress was renamed the Jefferson Building in 1976, the same year that the Madison Memorial Building was completed as the third piece of the Library of Congress. All three are connected by underground tunnels.




Project Details

Federal Cost Local Cost Total Cost Project #'s

Source notes

Short, C. W. and R. Stanley-Brown, 1939.  Public Buildings: A Survey of Architecture of Projects Constructed by Federal and Other Governmental Bodies Between the Years 1933 and 1939 with the Assistance of the Public Works Administration.  Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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Location Info

2nd St. SE
Washington, DC 20003

Coordinates: 38.8885, -77.0028

One comment on “Library of Congress Adams Building – Washington DC

  1. Micaela seidel

    I understand the Library of Congress was one of the federal buildings that received some of the handcrafted furniture from New Mexico created during the New Deal era. I would appreciate any information on that subject and whether it is still housed there.

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