|The west end of the building, with
its soaring single story halls and abundant natural light, was designed
with the Institution's public functions in mind. The teaching college that
Robert Dale Owen envisioned for the Smithsonian would have required many
lecture halls. As designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., this grand,
well-lit space was planned for such a use, with its rounded apse providing
an admirable lecturerís podium.
The high windows and skylights, which made the West Wing a successful design for a lecture hall, were also considered ideal for a gallery of art. Although the entire west end was designated as an art gallery in the 1849 plan, when it was completed the West Wing served as the Smithsonianís library, and the West Range was adapted for use as a reading room. It was not until after the fire of 1865, when the Institutionís library collection was transferred to the Library of Congress, that the West Wing and Range were wholly dedicated to use as exhibition space.
Beginning with the displays of Mineralogy and
concluding with those of Graphic Arts, the West Wing and Range provided
educational exhibitions for over one hundred years. The