Harry S. Truman Federal Building, Washington, DC

Harry S. Truman Federal Building, Washington, DC

Building History

During the early 1930s, the National Capital Park and Planning Commission sought to develop the section of the District of Columbia known as Foggy Bottom, located between C, E, Eighteenth, and Twenty-third streets. Leading up to World War II, the expanding War Department occupied several different buildings on the mall, making the need for a new building to consolidate operations a high priority. It was always intended to construct the building in two phases, and the Foggy Bottom site was chosen because it was large enough to accommodate both.

Gilbert Stanley Underwood and William Dewey Foster won the contract for the War Department building. They designed the building during 1938-1939 and construction began in 1940. The Public Buildings Administration of the Federal Works Agency, which inherited oversight responsibility for the federal buildings program from the U.S. Treasury Department in 1939, completed the first phase of the building in 1941.

During the design process, several agencies expressed concern that the War Department had already expanded beyond the capacity of the building. These concerns turned out to be correct. While some offices of the War Department moved into the building for a few years, the building never became the War Department headquarters. Congress appropriated funds for construction of the Pentagon early in 1941, the same year the first phase of the building was completed.

Although the original portion of the building is still commonly referred to as the War Department Building, it became home to the State Department by the late 1940s. World War II spurred the growth of this department as well. However, the planned expansion was delayed until Congress allocated funds for the addition in 1955.

Harley, Probst Associates, a joint venture between Harley, Ellington, and Day of Detroit and Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White of Chicago, won the contract for the design in 1956. The addition, known as the State Department Extension, was completed in 1960 and dedicated in 1961. In 2000, the building was renamed in honor of former President Harry S. Truman.


The original portion of the Harry S. Truman Federal Building, known as the War Department Building, is a well-executed example of the Stripped Classical architectural style with Art Moderne elements. The steel-framed building is clad in limestone and rises eight stories above the basement and sub-basement. Because it was designed to be expanded at a later date, it was deliberately asymmetrical. A central spine connects a U-shaped configuration to the east with an E-shaped configuration to the west.

The horizontal delineations of the facade reflect the classical precedents of the architectural style. Cornices and pink granite stringcourses create a base-shaft-capital system. The wings create a series of interior courtyards. The interior courtyard walls are clad in dark granite, emphasizing the transition from base to shaft.

The construction of the State Department Extension, completed in 1960, is reinforced concrete and was designed in the International style. Buff colored limestone cladding helps to create a cohesive combination of the two buildings. With the completion of the extension, the building became second to the Pentagon in the number of offices that it houses. Since its completion, access to the main ceremonial entrance and lobby is via the south elevation. The entrance is located off-center toward the west end of the building and is set back to frame a forecourt. The court is paved with a combination of gray and red granite. At either side of the forecourt, a limestone belt course runs the full width of the elevation above the basement and second stories. Limestone piers span the first and second stories.

The East Lobby of the original building is a two-story rectangular space surrounded by a screen of paired piers. Four large pendant lights, which are original, are the primary light source. The floors are terrazzo and the walls are travertine. Above the security barriers at the rear of the lobby is a mural by Kindred McLeary entitled The Defense of Human Freedoms, which depicts the five freedoms flanked at either end of the mural by their defenders, the American military. Access to the auditorium is via the second floor. The Dean Acheson Auditorium extends upward from the first through the third stories. The stage spans the full east wall of the room. The walls on either side are clad in burled California redwood paneling. The Loy Henderson Conference Room is two stories tall. The walls are Verde Antique marble with brass and bronze accents. A speakers' platform, stepped up at the center, is set along the west wall.

In the lobby of the fifth floor executive office suite is a mural by James McCreery entitled Liberty or Death: Don't Tread on Me. The work is an allegory of the American Revolution, including maps, cannon and other armament, and flags of the era. The eastern section of the fifth floor contains executive office suites for department heads and their staffs. The west side of the corridor includes staff offices and the general council room. The east side of the corridor includes office suites originally designated for the secretary of war and chief of staff.

The south courtyard of the State Department Building features a sculpture by Marshall M. Fredericks entitled The Expanding Universe, which includes a circular fountain and an architectural bronze statue. A treaty room and the ceremonial office of the Secretary of State is on the seventh floor. Diplomatic reception rooms were installed on the eighth floor during the 1980s as reproductions of early American architecture. They are furnished with eighteenth-century antique furnishings and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artwork.


1938-1939: Gilbert S. Underwood and William D. Foster design War Department building

1940-1941: Construction of War Department Building

1956: Harley, Probst Associates awarded design contract for State Department Extension

1957-1960: Construction of State Department Extension

1963: The Expanding Universe Fountain Installed

1980s: Diplomatic Reception Room installation

2000: Renamed in honor of President Harry S. Truman

Building Facts

Location: 2201 C Street, NW

Architects: Gilbert Stanley Underwood and William Dewey Foster; Harley, Probst Associates

Construction Dates: 1940-1941; 1957-1960

Architectural Style: Stripped Classical with Art Moderne elements

Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Primary Materials: Limestone, granite, and reinforced concrete

Prominent Features: Restrained facade; Art Moderne east lobby; Diplomatic reception rooms; Colossal portico of four piers

Harry S. Truman Federal Building, Washington, DC

The State Department occupies a two-block area in the northwest section of Washington, D.C.. It consists of two components: the War Department Building, 1939-1941, occupying the northeast quadrant of the site at the corner of E and 21st Streets; and the much larger State Department Extension of 1957-1960, which wraps around the western and southern sides of the older building. The two are related by their predominant materials - buff limestone, combined with granite - and by architectural styles of planar surfaces and minimal ornament.

The War Department is rectangular in shape. Above the first floor, the building assumes the configuration of a U shape to the east and an E shape to the west, connected by a central spine. Thus, prominent wings project at each of the four corners with a smaller wing in the center of the west facade. The design created a series of open courtyards, a deep forecourt to the main entrance on the east, two large courts on the north and south, and two smaller courts on the west. The building rises, above a sub-basement and basement, to a height of eight stories, plus penthouse. In the upper stories of the wings, the windows are grouped vertically and recessed, with spandrels of polished Select Carnelian granite, producing the effect of alternating piers and recesses. The other chief decorative element of the exterior is a colossal portico of four square piers rising from the 3rd through the 6th floor over the east entrance. The most significant interior spaces of the building are the East Lobby, the Exhibition Rooms (now heavily altered) and the elevator lobbies and adjacent corridors. It is in these public spaces that the Art Moderne style of the War Department Building is most clearly expressed. They feature glossy materials -travertine, black marble and structural glass- and contrasting rectilinear and curved geometric shapes. Most of the interior of the War Department section is devoted to office space, much of it strictly utilitarian design.

The State Department Extension is constructed of reinforced concrete principally sheathed with buff-colored limestone; at the lower three floors, limestone piers form bays that contain anodized aluminum windows and spandrels of polished Iridian granite. The design is a combination of late Art Moderne and International Style elements. The building rises to a height of eight stories above a full basement and carries a series of penthouses. At ground level, the footprint of the Extension is essentially a rectangle with a large "notch" at the northeast corner where the new building wraps around the old. The east, south, and west elevations of the Extension are stepped back at the 3rd floor and, from that point up, the building is configured as a series of wings arranged around interior courtyards. The predominant type of windows consists of pairs of rectangular plate glass lights set in frames of anodized aluminum with a wide center mullion of the same material. Significant spaces in the Extension include the South Diplomatic Lobby (principal), the West (Auditorium) Lobby and the North Lobby, all of which feature a combination of glass and aluminum curtain wall and marble cladding. Other important spaces include the Auditorium, the Exhibition Hall, the Library, and the International Conference Room. Walls of the offices for senior officials of the Department of State, located on the 6th and 7th floors, feature bases and window stools of marble and either butternut or pecan paneling. The complex of rooms on the 7th floor occupied by the Secretary and Undersecretary of State were originally distinguished by cherry paneling, combined in some spaces with marble. In this area only the Undersecretary's Suite now remains unaltered. Most of the space within the State Department Extension is devoted to standard offices, storage and file rooms. Though not architecturally significant, these standard offices are notable for their number - 3400.

Harry S. Truman Federal Building, Washington, DC

The State Department consists of 2 separate buildings designed by 2 different architects, for different agencies, constructed almost 20 years apart: the War Department Building, 1939-1941 and the State Department extension, 1957-1960. Neither building got much attention except for the War Department Building as a component of the proposed Northwest Rectangle. When the Federal Triangle was nearly complete, the National Capital Park and Planning Commission sought to develop a corresponding area west of the Ellipse which would be known as the Northwest Rectangle. The Northwest Rectangle plan called for a complex of buildings at Foggy Bottom in a location which would complement the Federal Triangle. Only 2 of these buildings were ever completed, the Interior Department Building and the War Department Building.

The site for the War Department Building was chosen in 1935, funds were appropriated in 1938. The building was designed in 1938-1939 by consulting architects Gilbert S. Underwood and William Dewey Foster under the supervision of Louis Simon, supervising Architect of the Treasury. The plans went through a number of reviews and changes, primarily due, in the late 1930's, to the rapid growth of the War Department and the steadily changing world political situation. The War Department Building incorporated the latest in office design technology: central air conditioning, fluorescent lighting, acoustical plaster. The consulting architect for the National Capital Park and Planning Commission, William T. Partridge, predicted that the building would be obsolete before completion. The War Department Building was never used for that purpose, by the time it was complete Congress had appropriated money for the Pentagon and the Secretary of War delayed moving until the larger building was finished. In 1944 the Army vacated the building and units of the State Department began to move in during the late 1940's.

World War II brought rapid expansion of the State Department and by 1945 State Personnel were scattered in 47 different building. In January of 1947, the first unit of the State Department moved into the War Department building; by 1951 this building was clearly headquarters for State so new letters spelling out "State Department" were mounted over the 21st Street door. By 1955 personnel filled the building and spilled over into 22 other locations. In July 1955, President Eisenhower requested from Congress approval of funds for planning and design. Although a substantial number of State employees (7800) moved into the building by April, 1960 some of the interior was still unfinished. The original completion date is considered December 19, 1960 since that is the day Secretary of State Christian Herter began working in his office. The State Department Building, upon completion, was the 2nd largest Federal office building, surpassed only by the Pentagon.

The primary significance of the State Department derives from events that took place there, i.e. signing of treaties and international conferences and receptions.

Description Architect
1939 1941 Original Construction Underwood & Foster; Harley, Probst
1951 Name "War Dept." removed; "State Dept." inserted unknown
1953 Auditorium (45'x65') added on 2nd floor Army Engineers
1957 State Department extension built Harley, Probst
Last Reviewed: 2021-09-07