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Artist Hiroshi Sugimoto to reenvision Hirshhorn lobby for the first time in the museums 42-year history
Artist: Hiroshi Sugimoto; Architect: NMRL/Tomoyuki Sakakida; Photo: Sugimoto Studio.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden has announced that acclaimed Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto has been commissioned to transform the museum's lobby, the first cohesive redesign of the iconic Gordon Bunshaft-designed building in the museum's 42-year history.

The redesign coincides with a new partnership to open the coffee bar Dolcezza Coffee & Gelato at Hirshhorn in the lobby's east end, the museum's first permanent food and beverage offering and the only locally owned café at the Smithsonian.

Both initiatives will open February 2018 as part of a larger plan to transform the overall museum experience, designed to encourage creativity and foster greater connections between visitors and the artists of the time.

Sugimoto's design, brought to life through his Tokyo-based architectural firm New Material Research Laboratory (NMRL), will maintain the integrity and scale of the original architecture while enhancing accessibility, functionality and visitor experience. The new space will feature a reconfigured entrance and Sugimoto-designed art objects as furnishings, welcome desks, digital signage and a dramatic 20-foot metal coffee bar, as well as a new installation of prismatic light sculpture "Your oceanic feeling" (2015) by noted Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. The redesigned lobby will retain the terrazzo floor, coffered ceiling and exposed aggregate walls of Bunshaft's 1970s design.

In reenvisioning the Hirshhorn space, Sugimoto looked to symbolize what is unique about both the building and the collection, ideally creating something that functions simultaneously as sculpture, furniture and conceptual art. The custom furnishings are inspired by the fundamental shape of the Hirshhorn - the circle - and the ways in which the shape appears in nature, specifically the chaotic roots of a medieval Japanese nutmeg tree. He used the 700-year-old tree as the basis for the lobby's central group tables, surrounded by helicoid spiral chairs.

"I became fascinated by the roots of an enormous tree, which fanned out to form a large circle, and I decided that this was the circle I would install in the Hirshhorn lobby - a symbol of life," said Sugimoto. "All art takes its inspiration from the power inherent in nature, and my hope is that as visitors enter the museum, they will experience the balance of the man-made and natural circles."

"Hiroshi Sugimoto is an internationally accomplished artist able to move seamlessly between art and design," said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. "In our case, his unique aesthetic brings a renewed sense of sophistication and elegance to the lobby while at the same honoring Gordon Bunshaft's original intentions. In 2006, the Hirshhorn was the first institution to present a career survey of Sugimoto's work, and it is an honor for us to incorporate his work into the museum in a permanent way for visitors to enjoy for years to come."

In a subtle but equally transformative change, the dark film covering the Hirshhorn’s dramatic 3,300-square-foot windows will be removed. Visitors on one side of the building will be able to see through to the National Mall, giving the space the open and elevated feel intended by Bunshaft.

Dolcezza’s menu will include seasonal and handcrafted gelato, specialty espresso drinks, gourmet pastries and cocktails. Open daily from 8 a.m. to museum close, Dolcezza at Hirshhorn will transform the museum lobby into a communal gathering space, with free Wi-Fi and spacious seating in a striking contemporary setting.

NMRL was founded by Sugimoto and his partner Tomoyuki Sakakida in 2008. In spite of its name, NMRL embraces materials and techniques of ancient and medieval architecture, undertaking the challenge of reinterpreting and reimagining older materials for contemporary buildings. NMRL’s goal is to preserve and transmit almost-forgotten techniques previously known only to skilled artisans, improving upon traditional materials so they can be employed in bold, modern architecture.

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