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The Smithsonian Institution announces a $2 billion major overhaul of its museums
Artist's rendering of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery entrance. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The Smithsonian today unveiled a proposed Master Plan for the South Mall campus—the museums and gardens along Independence Avenue S.W., from Seventh to 12th streets. Designed by BIG, the Bjarke Ingels Group, the comprehensive plan includes the revitalization of the Castle, with expanded visitor services; new Mall-facing entrances to the National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery; and improved visibility and access from the Freer Gallery of Art to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

The proposed Master Plan will be implemented over a 10-to-20–year period beginning in 2016.

The proposal has three primary goals: To improve and expand visitor services and education, to create clear entrances and connections between the museums and gardens, and to replace aging building mechanical systems that have reached the end of their lifespan.

The centerpiece of the proposed South Mall Master Plan is the revitalization of the iconic Smithsonian Castle. Opened in 1855, the Castle now serves as a visitor information center and the headquarters of the Institution. The plan calls for a restoration of the historic Great Hall, which has been altered by partitions that cut its floor space almost in half, and the addition of a two-level underground space for visitor services, a café and shop, with direct access to the Enid A. Haupt Garden and the underground Ripley Center.

The renovation of the Castle will transform the visitors’ experience, offering much-needed expanded amenities, including retail, cafes and public gathering spaces.

“The Master Plan provides the first-ever integrative vision for the South Mall,” said Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. “Bjarke Ingels Group has given us a plan that will offer open vistas, connected museums, galleries bathed in daylight, new performance venues, gardens that invite people into them, and it will visually attract visitors who will have an unparalleled experience.”

“It’s a great honor and a humbling challenge to reimagine one of the most significant American institutions on the front lawn of the nation’s capital,” said Bjarke Ingels, the founding partner at BIG and the architect of the Master Plan. “Together with the Smithsonian—with whom we have worked closely over the last year and a half—we have conceived a Master Plan for the South Mall campus as an example of radical reinterpretation. To resolve the contradictions between old and new, and to find freedom within the boundaries of strict regulation and historical preservation, we have chosen to carefully reinterpret the elements that are already present in the campus. By forging new links between the various technical, programmatic, logistical and curatorial demands, we have created a new landscape of connectivity and possibility. We believe this plan holds the potential to guide the Smithsonian South Mall campus into the future while remaining firmly rooted in its heritage.”

The proposed Master Plan combines several major projects, some of which address known infrastructure needs, including leaking roofs, failing mechanical systems and inefficient energy use. The initial cost estimate is about $2 billion, a mix of federal and private funds, over the course of the project. Integrated planning for the projects allows the Smithsonian to optimize the connections between the museums and gardens and take advantage of cost- and space-saving synergies, such as shared use of utility plants and a central loading dock.

Among the major proposed projects in the Master Plan are:

• Revitalization of the Castle, including replacement of its building systems and restoration and preservation of the Smithsonian’s oldest historic structure; seismic reinforcement is needed to bring the building to current codes and avoid damage in the future

• The Hirshhorn Museum will be made more open and accessible to the Mall, and the museum will expand underground to provide additional gallery and public programs space

• Replacement of the original roof of the quadrangle building under the Haupt Garden, which is nearing the end of its useful life; this roof is above the Ripley Center, Sackler Gallery and National Museum of African Art, and new light wells will allow daylight to light the underground complex for the first time

• Interior renovations and underground construction to support the Arts and Industries Building, once decisions are made regarding its long-term use

• Mechanical systems of buildings built in the 1970s and 1980s, including the Hirshhorn Museum (1974) and the quadrangle (1987), are reaching the end of their useful life and require replacement

• Above-ground and underground connections will be made between the buildings and the gardens running east-west along Independence Avenue

The proposed Master Plan requires review from the National Capital Planning Commission. The Smithsonian and NCPC will work together to fulfill the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. A public meeting to share the alternatives under consideration for the South Mall Master Plan will be scheduled for December.

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