The Commission of Fine Arts approved the concept design for the Holocaust Memorial Museum yesterday, giving the Holocaust Memorial Council the go-ahead to prepare final drawings for an imposing 90-foot structure to be built between the historic Auditor's Building and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on 15th Street near the Mall.

The commission, which oversees architectural standards for federal buildings, rejected the Holocaust council's early design six weeks ago, saying the building was too "foreboding" and spoke "more of muscle than of the soul."

After viewing plans that showed a less dramatic, softened version of the proposed memorial museum, the commission gave the council verbal approval but asked that the building be scaled back even further on the 14th Street side when final plans are brought together. The approval will be made official in a letter to the council next week.

The Holocaust council, a federal agency established by Congress in 1980 to build a museum and memorial to the Holocaust, was given the site behind the Auditor's building several years ago because survivors of the Holocaust felt that two historic buildings on the parcel were reminiscent of the concentration camp barracks of Europe.

The council decided, however, that the two-story brick structures on the site -- built as annexes to the Auditor's Building in 1902 and 1904 -- were too small for the entire complex the council wanted to include in the museum. The Advisory Council for Historic Preservation gave the council approval last December to raze the buildings, saying at the time that the two buildings were of "marginal" historic significance and "not worth keeping when balanced against the needs of the Holocaust council."

As originally proposed, the museum would have been a single, block-like structure 90-feet high that featured a hexagonal Hall of Remembrance, nearly 40-feet high, suspended from a strict post-and-lintel superstructure and hovering above a terrace.

The redesigned building has been split into two linked pavilions, with a colonnade and arches softening the opening around the Hall of Remembrance. The depth of the hall has been reduced from three stories to two, and the roof of that half of the museum lowered to 82 feet. The building has also been set back and slightly narrowed.