Hirshhorn Museum to Redesign Sculpture Garden


Michele Racioppi


Docomomo US staff


News, Advocacy
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The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Its commission was necessitated by Joseph H. Hirshhorn's donation of his extensive art collection to the Smithsonian in 1966. Completed in 1974, it was the first modernist building on the National Mall. The concrete-clad, drum-shaped structure drew both pans and raves from architecture critics. In 1981 the sculpture garden underwent a redesign led by landscape architect Lester Collins, the result of which is what exists at the site today. Additionally, the entrance plaza was modified in the 1990s by Urban & Associates (now the Office of James Urban). Today, the site is under review for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and receives close to 1 million visitors/year.



Renovations and Section 106 Process

In early 2019, the Smithsonian announced plans to redesign the sculpture garden, entrance plaza, and to make improvements to building envelope. The museum board chose architect and artist Hiroshi Sugimoto for the sculpture garden portion of the project. Sugimoto was also responsible for the 2018 redesign of the museum lobby. The primary goals of the garden renovation are to allow for the display of larger artwork and performance art, improved ADA access, and improved access between the garden and museum. The proposal includes reopening the original tunnel that connected the museum and garden, which was closed during the 1990s renovation. For the building envelope, proposed changes include the replacement of all of the original precast panels on the building façade, the roof, and the third floor outer ring window that looks onto the garden and Mall. 

The project is subject to Section 106 review under the National Historic Preservation Act. Both Docomomo US and Docomomo US/DC were asked to participate. A meeting was held on April 10 which both Docomomo US and the DC chapter attended. View the meeting presentation here. 

In a joint letter to the Smithsonian, Docomomo US and Docomomo US/DC commended the Smithsonian for undertaking efforts to make the sculpture garden more accessible and improving the connection to the museum by reopening the original tunnel, however also raised a number of concerns and recommended alternate approaches be considered. Notably, that the replacing all of the original precast concrete panels should be not be undertaken without first exploring all other options, and the introduction of stacked stone walls in the garden, a feature that is not currently found elsewhere on the site.