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Docomomo DC Update from Hirshhorn Section 106 May Meeting

Docomomo DC continues to participate in the Smithsonian Institution (SI) Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s Section 106 review process for the planned envelope repair and garden redesign projects.

In March, SI and consulting parties executed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for the envelope repair project. Docomomo US and Docomomo DC participated in drafting the MOA, and we are pleased with the mitigation measures outlined in the MOA that include HABS/HALS recording of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; laser scanning of the façade prior to removing the pre-cast concrete panels; retention of two of the original precast panels; and SI’s commitment to public education opportunities about the project.

Docomomo US and Docomomo DC were concerned that the replacement of the precast panels at the Hirshhorn would set a precedent for façade system replacements for other concrete clad Modern buildings. We feel the inclusion of the requirement that SI publicize the specific conditions of this project that necessitated panel replacement, and the thorough investigation of alternatives SI pursued, will distinguish this project as an exception to preservation best practices rather than a precedent.

On May 27, SI hosted its fourth Section 106 consulting parties meeting for the Sculpture Garden Revitalization project. The meeting was conducted virtually over Zoom, and included an overview of the concept plan for the garden and draft Assessment of Effect on Historic Resources (AOE). Attendees were able to comment on both the project design and the draft AOE. Changes to the project since the last consulting parties meeting include a redesign of the new fountain and the completion of the Period of Significance and Integrity Analysis Report for the Sculpture Garden that established the importance of Lester Collins’ contributions to the historic significance of the Garden and revised the period of significance for the Garden to be 1974–1981.

The presentation included a detailed overview of the material selections for the garden walls. Some walls will be replaced with concrete aggregate, like the original, while other walls will be made of stacked stone. A focus of many of the comments on the design was the decision to change the central inner partition wall from concrete to stacked stone. The central retaining wall, circled in red in the plan below, is one of the primary organizing features of the garden both as designed by Gordon Bunshaft and Lester Collins. Multiple speakers felt that it would dramatically alter the garden to reconstruct an original primary feature of the garden in a new material. Andrew Lewis, with the SHPO office, stated that as the wall is one of the first features of the Garden that visitors encounter from the Mall, it needs to maintain its current direct visual connection to the museum building by remaining concrete aggregate like the building facade. SI personnel stated a strong preference for the wall being stacked stone as a backdrop for sculpture.

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Mr. Lewis also expressed concern that the redesigned reflecting pool still differs too much from Bunshaft’s original design and lacked the strong connection of the original design between the museum building’s south-facing window and the width of the pool. SI classified the alterations to the reflecting pool as an adverse effect in the presentation.

SI anticipates finalizing the AOE this summer and is planning for a second mock-up of the stacked stone walls and benches in the fall. SI is planning to seek NCPC Final approval in early 2021.

Learn more about the project and view the May 27 presentation by visiting the SI project page.




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