Moments in Academy History

CHAPTER TWO - The NAS Building's Interior: The Lecture Room and the Board Room


Lecture Room © 2012 Maxwell MacKenzie.


The Lecture Room is to the east of the entry foyer.  As originally designed, the Lecture Room was to be used for the demonstration of actual laboratory experiments and a place for daily showings of films on scientific subjects, open to the public.  The Lecture Room is now used for meetings and press conferences.  It was the setting for President John F. Kennedy's address to the Academy at its Annual Meeting of 1961.  The President spoke of the need to maintain a close association between science — embodied by the Academy — and the government at a time when, as he put it, the nation was on “the threshold of many frontiers.”18 Although its infrastructure was upgraded in 1981, 1992, and 2012, its overall decorative scheme has remained unchanged.  Walnut paneling, reaching two-thirds of the way between floors and ceiling, line the walls of the Lecture Room. The decorative inlay on the exterior of the sound booth and on the grilles near the ceiling were designed to mimic the convoluted veneer designs associated with Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer.


Board Room © 2012 Maxwell MacKenzie.


Detail of the light fixture in the Board Room.
© 2012 Maxwell MacKenzie.

Beyond the Lecture Room is the Board Room.  The Lecture Room and Board Room on the eastern flank of the building were designed to complement the Library (now the Members' Center) and the Reading Room (now the Members' Room) on the western end, in size, proportion, and general design.  An unusual feature of the Board Room is a decorative light fixture, or electrolier, in the shape of a globe whose surface is painted to represent a map of the world, based largely on Leonardo da Vinci's map of 1515. The metal cage surrounding the globe is a depiction of a celestial globe or armillary sphere surrounding and enclosing the terrestrial globe.  The celestial globe is ringed by figures of the zodiac, which has its origin in Babylonian star catalogues where it functioned as a celestial coordinate system.

The Founders' Portrait, a painting by Albert Herter of President Abraham Lincoln signing the Academy's charter on March 3, 1863 in the presence of the founders, hangs above the marble fireplace of the Board Room.  The grouping was never assembled as shown.  Lincoln did sign the Academy charter, but not in the company of the founders.  Shown with Lincoln, from left to right, they are: Benjamin Peirce, Alexander Dallas Bache, Joseph Henry, Louis Agassiz, Lincoln, Henry Wilson, Charles H. Davis, and Benjamin Apthorp Gould.  Herter based his portraits on individual photographs or etchings of the founders, sent to him by Brockett.19

This painting by Albert Herter (1871-1950) imagines President Abraham Lincoln surrounded by
some of the founders of the NAS at the signing of the charter establishing the NAS.


Continue Reading:

  A Home for Science in America Origins The Site Selection of an Architect Early Concepts of the Building The NAS Building's Exterior Exterior Stone Carvings and Bronze Work The Grounds The Entry Foyer The Great Hall Exhibits Library & Reading Room The Lecture Room and the Board Room The Wings The Auditorium Restoration Cleaning and Conservation of the Historic Core New Spaces and New Infrastructure
Endnotes Credits

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