The Pension Building was designed by Army Quartermaster General Montgonery C. Meigs and was built between 1882 and 1887 to house the U.S. Pension Bureau, a Federal agency bright into being the award pensions to Union veterans of the Civil War. This massive renaissance inspired, three-story building is crowned with gabling clerestory section, which rises an additional three-stories above the floor. Its interior contains a huge, covered central atrium courtyard which rises to the top of the clerestory roof. The interior space is grand and dramatic. It provides an abundance of light and air and net usable floor space including the courtyard of 156,360 square feet.
The exterior of the building is composed of three-story walls topped by a gabled clerestory. The walls are self-supporting masonry construction with burnt red brick of running bond. The masonry joints are tinted to match the brick. The lower main block of the exterior is inspired by the Renaissance Pallazzo Farnese in Rome, seen by Meigs on tour in Italy. It is larger than its prototype being 400-feet long by 200-feet wide. The walls are crowned by an elaborate cornice and the 3 floors are demarked by string courses of terra cotta and molded brick. Each facade had an entrance in the center defined by a projecting brick archways and stone architrave. The north and south facades have 27 bays, and the east and west facades have 13 bays.
The Pension Building has national architectural significance in that it represents an early revival of the Italian Renaissance style. In 1900, the McMillan Commission considered the Victorian government buildings of Washington including the Pension Building. The building is part of the ensemble of buildings on Judiciary Square. The Pension Building is nationally significant in that it was built for and occupied by the Pension Bureau, the first Federal veterans agency to operate on a national scale.