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.
Sculpture Garden and Assessment of Effects Update
As the Smithsonian Institution wrapped up the exterior revitalization plans in early 2020, the Docomomo US Advocacy Committee focused its attention to the larger goals for the Sculpture Garden. In February 2020, the Smithsonian released the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Significance and Integrity Report. With this report, consulting parties successfully persuaded the Smithsonian Institution to modify the period of significance to include the changes made to the garden in 1981 by Lester Collins.
While this inclusion showed progress, extensive changes impacting the historic integrity of the Sculpture Garden have remained, and even expanded, in the updated project plans. Consulting parties continue to speak out against avoidable adverse effects on critically important historic elements such as the expansion to the reflecting pool, and the addition of stacked stone walls that would “significantly alter Bunshaft’s design and denigrate the crucial visual relationship between the museum and its sculpture garden.”
The design and dimensions of the reflecting pool and its relationship to the museum’s balcony overlooking the garden remains one of the most critical design elements of the entirety of the site. The visual relationship of the balcony and building to the garden cannot be understated. While there are some initial Bunshaft sketches showing a larger pool, this was not the final built design. But yet, in each project update, an enlarged pool remains, and the critical relationship of the garden and pool is significantly obscured. Docomomo US believes that enlarging the pool will create a false historical appearance which will significantly diminish the integrity of the site.