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Plans for Hirshhorn Museum sculpture garden redesign receive key approvals

A public meeting on the project is expected in September

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) have green-lighted Japanese architect Hiroshi Sugimoto’s concept proposal for an overhaul of the Hirshhorn Museum’s sculpture garden into a “front door” to the National Mall. The approvals clear the way for additional design work by the architectural team, and museum officials say they will hold a public meeting in September to gather more feedback.

The product of two years of planning, Sugimoto’s concept calls for increasing access and adding space to the 1974 museum’s 1.5-acre garden, which currently features artwork by Auguste Rodin and Yoko Ono, among others. The new space would be able to host larger pieces as well as performances. Furthermore, the redesign would reopen an underground passage connecting the garden to the museum plaza that has been closed since the 1980s.

At their June 6 meeting, NCPC commissioners voiced support for these components of the plans and others, including the addition of greenery. “They requested that the Smithsonian work with the National Park Service regarding alternatives for crossing Jefferson Drive to the Mall,” NCPC says in a release. “Commissioners expressed concerns that the proposed stone walls may be too busy and not in keeping with the Hirshhorn design.” They also requested more details from the designers about a potential expansion of the garden’s reflection pool.

Rendering of proposed sculpture garden redesign
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden/Smithsonian Institution

The CFA approved the redesign at its May 16 meeting. In a subsequent letter to Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu, Thomas Luebke, the commission’s secretary, reported that the CFA members “expressed strong support for the proposed design as an ambitious renovation that will enhance the display and the public appreciation of this important sculpture collection.” But, Luebke noted, the members “recommended careful detailing of the new elements within the garden ... to ensure they have a sculptural elegance commensurate with the quality of the museum as a whole” and “considering other configurations of the [planned] stage platform.”

In a statement, the chair of the Hirshhorn’s board, Daniel Sallick, said the NCPC’s and CFA’s approvals “reflect broad support for the new concept.” “The reimagined Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden will provide visitors from Washington and around the world greater access to the garden from the National Mall and a truly 21st-century art experience,” he added. But some have raised concerns about the concept: Last month, the Cultural Landscape Foundation warned that the proposal would “eradicate the work of landscape architect Lester Collins.”

D.C.’s State Historic Preservation Office wrote in a May letter to the Smithsonian Institution that the issue of whether Collins’s work is historically significant “warrants further analysis.” He redesigned the garden from 1977 to 1981. Gordon Bunshaft had been the initial architect.

Proposed garden programming
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden/Smithsonian Institution
Proposed flow of the redesign
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden/Smithsonian Institution
Concept sketch looking south
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden/Smithsonian Institution

This post has been updated with information about the Historic Preservation Office’s view.

Hirshhorn Museum

7th Street Southwest, , DC 20560 (202) 633-1000 Visit Website