The transformation of the Smithsonians National Museum of American History
will continue with a major project to renew the buildings 120,000-square-foot west exhibition wing. (The museums center core and east wing will remain open.) The plans feature new galleries, an education center, interior public plazas and performance spaces as well as modernizing the infrastructure in this section of the building, including wireless environments. A new panoramic window on the first floor will give a sweeping view of the Washington Monument and connect visitors to the National Malls landmarks.
Exhibition closings began in October with the Lemelson Centers Spark!Lab and will continue through early 2012. The museum expects to receive construction proposals by late spring 2012. Architecture firm EwingCole is responsible for the overall planning and design. The west exhibition wing will begin reopening in winter 2014 to coincide with the museums 50th anniversary.
Visitors to the National Mall can continue to visit the museum and view exhibitions exploring transportation, military, numismatics and political history, as well as the Star-Spangled Banner and the newest iteration of the First Ladies Collection, The First Ladies, which opens to the public Nov. 19 with more than 26 dresses on view.
When the west wing reopens, new exhibitions will explore the history of American business and innovation, highlight hot spots of invention throughout history, examine the role of democracy in America and showcase American culture while new public plazas will provide space for programs and public gatherings.
The renovations overarching theme will be centered on the core principles and the very dynamic of American democracy, said Marc Pachter, the museums interim director. Democracy is what shapes our economic life, our cultural life and, in short, what makes America, America. And visitors will see this reflected in future exhibitions, the education center and in programs and national outreach.
The first floor will house the museums new 22,000-square foot education centera laboratory for learning and teaching American history. The center will feature a new and improved Spark!Lab; a new exhibition, Places of Invention; a special space for children under 5; a demonstration stage; and the Object Project, an innovative plaza with activities and objects that help visitors find their place in history. The second floors focus will be on American democracy with a civic plaza and an exhibition while the third floor will feature a new, state-of-the-art Hall of Music that can host the museums Smithsonian Chamber Music Society and Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.
The Alexander Calder sculpture Gwenfritz will return to its original location on the west lawn at 14th Street, facing the Washington Monument and contributing to the monumental cityscape. The Calder was commissioned by Gwendolyn Cafritz and officially given to the Smithsonian in 1969.
The museum began closing galleries and exhibitions in October with the Lemelson Centers Spark!Lab. The centers popular Invention at Play exhibition will close after Thanksgiving weekend and most of the Science in American Life exhibition will also close in November.
Visitors will have an extra opportunity to see old favorites with the museums extended hours during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays when the building will be open until 7:30 p.m. Nov. 25 and 26 and Dec. 26 through Dec. 30. The exhibition closing schedule is subject to change. The museum will release further details on exhibition closings and the renovation in January.
In 2008, the museum reopened after a two-year architectural transformation of its central core, including a five-story skylit atrium surrounded by artifact displays showcasing the breadth of the collection. A grand staircase links the museums first and second floors and the renovations centerpiece was a state-of-the-art gallery for the Star-Spangled Banner. It also included the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Hall of Invention, the Albert H. Small Documents Gallery and The Rose Gallery which will showcase The First Ladies, adjacent to The American Presidency exhibition.