National Museum of the Marine Corps / Fentress Architects

© James P. Scholz

As the main focus of the 135-acre Semper Fidelis Memorial Park, The National Museum of the Marine Corps, just outside of Washington D.C., opened in 2006 to coincide with the Marine Corps’ 231st anniversary. The primary building of the Marine Corps Heritage Center contains 120,000 square feet of museum gallery space, an orientation theater, office space, gift shop, and two restaurants, all welcoming visitors to explore the history and values of the Corps.

Architect: Fentress Architects
Location: , Virginia, USA
Contractor: Balfour Beatty Construction
Project Year: 2006
Photographs: James P. Scholz, Ken Paul, Hedrich Blessing, , United States Marine Corps and Marine Corps Heritage Foundation

© Ken Paul

Visually dramatic and inspiring, the design of the National Museum of the Marine Corps is particularly meaningful when the primary inspiration for the architects is revealed. In seeking the most significant symbols for the Marines, Fentress was moved by one of the most enduring images of all time — the Rosenthal photograph of Marines and a Navy corpsman determinedly erecting the American flag atop Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima during World War II. That inspirational event led to the Museum’s iconic architecture, evoking the form of the men raising their country’s flag.

inspiration section © Fentress Architects

From the angle of that long-ago flagpole being raised, Fentress distilled a central feature for the museum: a 210-foot steel mast that anchors the entry lobby and supports a ribbed, conical skylight. The mast is a signature element of the building, a low-slung, circular concrete structure partially covered by a green roof.
This image truly embodies the words of Admiral Chester Nimitz, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.” The “taking of the hill” also inspired Fentress to site the building on the highest piece of ground visible from Interstate 95 by which 100,000 cars pass each day.

axon © Fentress Architects
© United States Marine Corps and Marine Corps Heritage Foundation
Nick Merrick © Hedrich Blessing
© James P. Scholz
Jason A. Knowles © Fentress Architects
masterplan © Fentress Architects

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Cite: "National Museum of the Marine Corps / Fentress Architects" 17 Jun 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <>
  • jprati

    Very beautiful. I had seen this from the interstate and wondered what it was and why I had not heard of it. I wish it were on the waterfront somewhere, but having a daily audience of 100,000 is certainly not a bad thing.

  • kyle

    this is everything wrong with architecture today. The marines deserve so much more than a flimsy formal metaphor with stair cores slapped in it. Huge disappointment.

  • Jay


    Have you been to this museum or are you forming an opinion from a few pictures?

    It is certainly much more than a flimsy metaphor with a stair core. The design of the museum, the feeling of the space and the organization and layout of the narrative is amazing. The atrium is filled with light, full scale dioramas and models and serves as a great event space.

    When I was there I talked with some of the visitors and some of the Marines that were visiting or working there. Not one had a negative thing to say about the design. They felt it embodied a great moment in the history of the Corps and was a great education tool for the public.

  • alex

    have to agree with kyle on this one; this is a very heavy-handed, far too literal, inferior design. Just because you have a big idea: ‘oh! lots of light’, and decide to ocupy said light-filled space with a lot of dioramas/models/ history-ey stuff doesn’t automatically make it good architecture. While it’s nice that the marines like it, I feel they would be predisposed to like any semi-dramatic space filled with curated elements celebrating their cause. Fair enough, but great architecture needs to go beyond the immediate cliches of its program. Especially, as Kyle pointed out, when its for someone as important as the marines.

    • John-David Carling

      Ditto Alex

  • tinnitus miracle

    I do consider all the ideas you’ve introduced to your post. They are very convincing and can certainly work. Still, the posts are too brief for novices. Could you please prolong them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

  • konstantina

    can somebody please help me?in what architectural movement can we place this building,and why?help please.thank you :)