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Docomomo Report from Hirshhorn Section 106 Meeting

The Hirshhorn's rendering of a redesigned Sculpture Garden

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden announced March 11 that it is moving forward with a renovation and redesign of its Sculpture Garden and a building envelope improvement project. The Smithsonian held the first of two Section 106 public consulting parties meetings April 10. Representatives from Docomomo US and Docomomo DC attended the meeting.

Museum Building

The proposed changes to the building 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 concrete panels exhibit some damage, but are structurally sound and only the attachment clips require replacement. The replacement of the panels is being undertaken to install insulation to meet prescriptive energy code requirements. The new panels will be installed 3” from the original exterior face of the building, enlarging the overall radius of the building. Docomomo is concerned that replacing all the original precast concrete panels on the façade would result in the permanent loss of a character defining feature and change the building’s overall proportions.

Sculpture Garden

The Smithsonian selected Japanese Artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, who design the recently completed Hirshhorn lobby renovation, to redesign the sculpture garden. The originally constructed garden differs greatly from Gordon Bunshaft’s original design and the garden was entirely redesigned in 1980 by Lester Collins. The primary goals of the garden renovation are to allow for the display of larger artwork and performance art, improved ADA access, and improve access between the garden and museum. The proposal includes reopening the original tunnel that connected the museum and garden. Three options for opening to the tunnel, that would allow varying amounts of natural light into the tunnel, were presented. The design organizes the garden into different zones. The overall design includes an enlarged shallow fountain, new concrete walls to match the original, and new stacked stone walls. The existing concrete garden walls are damaged beyond repair and require replacement. Docomomo is concerned about the introduction of stacked stone walls to the Modern composition.

Next Steps

Docomomo DC and Docomomo US are jointly submitting comments as part of the Section 106 process expressing our concern that such a drastic alteration to the facade should not be undertaken without exploring all other options. Docomomo will encourage the Smithsonian to consider energy performance improvements to the building that would not result in the loss or alteration of such significant character defining features. Docomomo is also questioning the introduction of stacked stone walls to the garden. This choice of material is foreign to Bunshaft’s and Collins’ designs and has no precedent at the museum or on the Mall.

The Smithsonian’s April 10 Section 106 consulting parties meeting presentation is available here:

Both projects will be reviewed by CFA in June and NCPC in July.

DocomomoDC will continue to provide updates on the project throughout the Section 106 process.




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