After four years of high-brow debate, the demise of the controversial Hirshhorn ‘Bubble’ has been confirmed. The decision, made by Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough and Undersecretary Richard Kurin, comes shortly after the Hirshhorn board’s split vote resulted in the resignation of director Richard Koshalek - the man behind the ‘Bubble’.
Koshalek, who announced the experimental project in 2009, deemed it to be a transformative architectural and cultural space that was essential to the Hirshhorn’s future. If realized, the 150-foot-tall Diller Scofidio + Renfro-designed structure would inflate for special events, symposia and exhibition-related programs, expanding the museum’s capacity and elevating its status to an international symbol of contemporary art and architecture.
As Kurin would agree, the final decision was not about the “inherent quality of the architecture, which is almost universally regarded”, but rather the economic feasibility of the project. In December, the ‘Bubble’ came under fire after its “ballooning” cost which jumped from an estimated $5 million to $15.5 million. Then, last month, an internal Smithsonian memo reported that the Bubble would operate at about a $2.8 million loss. This all comes during an already tough time of fundraising, which has forced the project to be delayed at least three times.
“Without the full support of the museum’s board and the funding in place for the fabrication and a viable plan for the operation of the Bubble, we believe it is irresponsible to go forward,” said Kurin, in a statement released by the Smithsonian. “Architects, artists and Smithsonian staff have praised the bold vision of a temporary bubble-shaped structure on the Mall, but after four years of planning and fundraising, there was not enough funding to construct the Bubble and, more importantly, to sustain programming for years to come.”