Nearly a year-and-a-half since the announcement of their selection, BIG has unveiled plans for a massive, 20-year-long overhaul for the Smithsonian’s southern campus in the center of Washington DC. With an overarching goal to unite the site by dissolving the notable impediments and discontinuous pathways that plague the area, BIG plans to also expand visitor, education and gallery spaces, while updating aging and inefficient building systems.
"Where today each museum is almost like a separate entity, in the future, it’s going to be a much more open, intuitive and inviting campus to meander around," Bjarke Ingels explained.
The site – bordered by Jefferson Drive and the National Mall to the north, Seventh Street SW to the east, Independence Avenue SW to the south and 12th Street to the west – is home to some of the Smithsonian’s oldest buildings, including the 1855 Castle, which is the centerpiece of BIG’s proposal. Currently a visitor information center and headquarters for the Institution, the masterplan calls for a restoration of the historic Castle’s Great Hall with a direct access to the Enid A. Haupt Garden and the underground Ripley Center.
"We're hoping to shift the paradigm away from administration and toward the visitor experience," said Smithsonian secretary Wayne Clough. "The enhancements really focus particularly on public access."
Directly in front of the Castle, the corners of the Haupt Garden will be peeled up to reveal the underground Sackler Gallery and National Museum of African Art. The gallery space in both museums will be increased by 30 percent and illuminated by new skylights outlining the garden.
Also part of the plan is the removal of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s “incarcerating” concrete wall that blocks direct access to and from the National Mall. In addition to this, more exhibition space will be added beneath the garden to accommodate large art installations.
When the Institution set out to find an architect for the campus overhaul, they were particularly concerned with preserving the site’s historic architecture. In response, BIG responded by “almost turning architecture into an art of reinterpretation," says Igels. "What we tried to do with Smithsonian is reinterpret all of the qualities that are already there, and strengthen and enhance them, and maybe sometimes tweak them, but the point of departure is always the existing character that is there."
Location419 11th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20004, United States
Partners in ChargeBjarke Ingels, Thomas Christoffersen
Project ManagerZiad Shehab
Project LeaderDaniel Kidd, Sean Franklin
Design TeamSuemin Jeon, Alana Goldweit, Cadence Bayley, Lina Bondarenko, Annette Miller, Otilia Pupezeanu, Choongyho Lee, Doug Stechschulte, Jeremy Alain Siegel, Alexandre Hamlyn, Julian Ocampo Salazar, Tammy Teng, Daisy Zhong
CollaboratorsSurfaceDesign, Robert Silman Associates, GHT Limited, EHT Traceries, Stantec, Atelier Ten VJ Associates, Wiles Mensch, PE Group, FDS Design Studio, Kleinfelder
PhotographsCourtesy of BIG
References: Smithsonian, BIG