The building has a full basement and a three-story high cruciform shaped Great Hall, attached at the center of the north side of the rectangular block. Around the Great Hall were seven small, one- or two- tory-high rooms. It was envisioned that wings would be added so that the building would be square with two light courts on either side of the Great Hall. In the 1960s the east and west sides of the square were added when wings were attached to the north side of the original lock. These two-story wings are connected to the Great Hall by passages which enclose two courtyards. In 1969-1970 a large rectangular addition was attached to the north side of the Great Hall. The three additions were designed by Harrison and Abramovitz.
The National Academy of Sciences as incorporated by an act of Congress on March 3, 1863, to advise the government on scientific matters, but did not have its own permanent headquarters until this building designed by Goodhue was erected. After its founding, the Academy was housed in the Smithsonian. During World War I, the National Research Council was established as an entity of the Academy with the purpose of advising on the practical application of scientific discoveries. The Academy, itself, advises on theoretical matters. After the war, President Wilson, by an Executive Order signed in May 1918, made the Council permanent and in so doing increased the need for a permanent headquarters for the Academy and Council. In 1919, the Carnegie Corporation of New York resolved that, if the Academy could purchase a building site through other means, the Corporation would finance construction of the building and endow the Academy and Council. The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts informally suggested Goodhue as the architect of the building. The Academy's building committee chairman, George Ellery__ Hale was a notable solar physicist and an admirer of Goodhue. Hale played an important role in the planning of the building.
DC designation: November 8, 1964
National Register listing: March 15, 1974