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Smithsonian Institution South Campus Master Plan

Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)

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Smithsonian Institution


  • Mechanical Engineer: GHT Limited
  • Structural Engineer: Robert Silman Associates
  • Other: Stantec
  • Other: EHT Traceries
  • Other: GHD
  • Other: Atelier Ten
  • Other: VJ Associates
  • Civil Engineer: Wiles Mensch Corp.
  • Other: Kleinfelder
  • Landscape Architect: Surfacedesign
  • Other: FDS Design Studio

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Text by Deane Madsen

Amid the grand buildings that line Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, it’s all too easy to miss the entrances to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the National Museum of African Art: a pair of pavilions framing the Enid A. Haupt Garden behind James Renwick Jr.’s red sandstone Castle. To fix this and other problems, the Smithsonian Institution launched an RFQ in 2012. The result is a new master plan for the Smithsonian’s South Campus from Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG).

The grandest element of BIG’s scheme is a new pavilion south of the Castle. The pavilion will replace the twin entrances to the Sackler Gallery and African art museum and help unify the two institutions, which exist largely below grade. An occupiable, street-level green roof will replace the existing garden. The green roof’s northern corners reach skyward as entrances to draw the attention of visitors on the Mall and to frame views of the Castle from the south. The perimeter of the green roof will be lined with skylights to help illuminate subterranean galleries.

Less visible, but still vital, improvements to the South Campus will include expanded staff offices, a new shared loading dock, and seismic and mechanical systems upgrades. The plan also calls for a new underground avenue to connect the Freer Gallery of Art through the new pavilion to the Arts and Industries Building and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden to the east. The Castle’s Great Hall will be restored as well.

The South Campus Plan still requires the approval of the National Capital Planning Commission; it will be implemented incrementally over a 10- to 20-year period, hopefully beginning this year. All told, the effort will create a more unified sector of the Smithsonian and the National Mall—as connected as it is conspicuous.

This article appeared in the May 2016 issue of ARCHITECT magazine.

Project Credits
Project: Smithsonian Institution South Campus Master Plan, Washington D.C.
Client/Owner: Smithsonian Institution
Architect: Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), New York . Bjarke Ingels (founding partner/partner-in-charge); Thomas Christoffersen, Kai-Uwe Bergmann, AIA (partners/partners-in-charge); Aran Coakley, AIA (senior architect/project manager); Sean Franklin (designer/project leader); Daniel Kidd (associate/architect/project architect); Aaron Hales, Alana Goldweit, Alexandre Hamlyn, Annette Miller, Cadence Bayley, Choongyho Lee, Chris Falla, Daisy Zhong, Daniele Pronesti, Doug Stechschulte, Gabriel Hernandez Solano, Janice Rim, Jennifer Shen, Jeremy Alain Siegel, Julian Andres Ocampo Salazar, Lina Bondarenko, Ola Hariri, Otilia Pupezeanu, Suemin Jeon, Tammy Teng, Wells Barber, Wesley Chiang, Ziad Shehab, AIA (project team)
Materials Management: Kleinfelder
Mechanical/Electrical Engineer: GHT Ltd.
Structural Engineer: Silman Associates
Civil Engineer: Wiles Mensch Corp.
Geotechnical Engineer: Atelier Ten (sustainability)
Landscape Architect: Surfacedesign
Historic Preservation: EHT Traceries
NEPA Compliance: Stantec
Food Services: FDS Design Studio
Fire/Life Safety: GHD
Cost Estimation: VJ Associates
Size: 1.16 million square feet
Cost: Withheld

Project Description

A comprehensive plan for enhancing the visitors' ability to flow through and among the Smithsonian Institution's South Campus museums, this project lays out a 20 year program of building updates and enhancements to 15 acres on the rim of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The visual centerpiece of the project is a clever revamp of the garden adjacent to the Smithsonian's beloved castle, in which the garden, which is in fact the rooftop of below-ground museum space, comes to look like a carpet with its corners flipped up, and with a glass frame all around like the wood inlay in a floor. The “carpet” will have multiple effects: its upswept sides frame the Smithsonian's castle, underscoring the beloved building's centrality on the campus; the glass provides passersby ample views down to the museum spaces; and it fills the below-ground space with natural light.

An expansion of the underground space will make it a connection point among the South Campus museums. Visitors will no longer have to go out onto the sidewalk to move from one museum to the next, and will understand the different museums as united components of one institution.

The project also promises more openness within the castle, built in 1849 as the sole vessel of what is now the world's largest complex of museums. In particular, the castle's sumptuous Great Hall will be restored to its full grandeur with the removal of modern partition walls that reduce floor area by 40 percent.

The iconic James Renwick, Jr.-designed castle also gets a seismic upgrade and improvements to its mechanical systems. Other museums in the South Campus, such as the handsome, historic Arts and Industries Building and cylindrical Hirshhorn Museum, will also be renovated and upgraded, in a plan that will be complete in 2035.
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