BIG Presents New Vision for Smithsonian Campus in Washington

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By Patrick Sisson
The Bjarke Ingels Group proposes a new vision for the esteemed D.C. institution.

Unity has been a hard quality to find in the nation's capital. But if Bjarke Ingels's intuition is right, he may have found a way to bring some harmony to Washington, D.C., at least of the aesthetic kind, with an upgrade of the Smithsonian's south campus. Unveiled Thursday, the renovation plan by his firm BIG would simultaneously open up and unite a collection of historic venues—including the Smithsonian Castle, National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Freer Gallery of Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden—with improved and expanded entrances, more gallery space, and reinterpretations of classic architectural styles. These images from the presentation showcase the vision for a smarter campus. 

 

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This illuminated evening view shows how the proposed raised entryways for the Sackler Gallery and the National Museum of African Art would slightly bend and contort the Haupt Garden, creating a sort of tabbed topography.

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Designed with visitors' needs in mind, the overall renovation plan would actually excavate underneath the Smithsonian Castle—made from red sandstone bricks and finished in 1855—by suspending the structure via a process called base isolation. This would allow for the creation of the underground space depicted above.

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A view of the new entrance to the National Museum of African Art, showing how the raised corner entrance would alter the landscape. Part of the idea is to let the expanded entrances and skylight systems serves as preludes and sneak peeks at the ongoing exhibitions.

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A view from the National Mall west of the Smithsonian. The plan, which may take up to two decades to finish, would still need approval from the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts.

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The BIG proposal would lower the outer ring wall of the curved Hirshhorn Museum, designed by Gordon Bunschaft, to improve accessibility.

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A view of the enhanced south campus, presenting a vision of a more integrated square. The renovation's estimated price tag, $2 billion, would be paid by a combination of federal funds and private donations.

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One of the key goals of the open corner entrances and structural renovations is to bring more natural light to bear on the nation's art treasures via skylights, as pictured here in the National Museum of African Art. The project will also expand total gallery space by roughly 30 percent.

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The plan also calls for a more visible entrance to the interactive Ripley education center, to help draw more crowds to the underground exhibit.

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