In few other Washington buildings are sheer function and architectural beauty so well integrated as the Central Heating Plant. It was one of three greatly admired public buildings designed by Cret for the city in the 1930s. Although less familiar than his Folger Shakespeare Library and the Federal Reserve Board buildings (see CH15 and FB08), it was pivotal in translating the classical idiom into modern terms. Modernism did not take the city by storm; it seeped in gradually with buildings such as Cret's, which were beautifully proportioned, carefully detailed, and functional.
The Central Heating Plant supplies all federal government buildings near the Mall. A modern garment fashioned of buff brick and limestone trim clothes this facility. The exterior is designed with vertical ribbons of louvered windows, separated by slightly protruding pilasters. The parapet and the setback are detailed with a geometric pattern. Three massive octagonal smokestacks rise 42 feet along the setback. At the 13th Street entrance, the building's purpose is related in decorative limestone panels illustrating a generator, boiler safety valve, fan, and heat exchanger. The large panel above the central window depicts coal furnaces, boilers, and machinery that traps steam and pipes it to other buildings.