Independence Avenue and 7th Street, SW
Dear Ms. Chiu:
In its public meeting of 15 July conducted by videoconference, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a final design submission for the comprehensive renovation of the Hirshhorn Museum’s Sculpture Garden on the National Mall between 7th and 9th Streets, SW. Citing its support for the continued adaptation of the sculpture garden as a public landscape, the Commission approved the proposal, subject to the following conditions and comments.
In recognition of the many improvements necessary to rehabilitate this Modernist sculpture garden to enhance the experience of visitors and the presentation of contemporary art, the Commission members commented that evolution of this landscape is inevitable, and that the proposal does not need to replicate precisely the palimpsest of designs by Gordon Bunshaft and Lester Collins. In general, they said that the goals of conservation, public use, and artistic craft are well balanced in the design, and they found that the proposal presents a series of sensitive interventions that extends the spirit of the historic design for continuing use of the garden into the future. While acknowledging the questions raised about the insertion of dry-laid, battered stone walls, they concluded that this would introduce an element of beautiful layering into the garden, exquisitely made in a material and design that would humanize the experience of the setting. They endorsed the design of the new central space, featuring a renovation of the original pool and the addition of a larger pool, to create a multi-use area for display and performance; they suggested further study of the details of the pools, such as the width of the path and safety provisions for visitors. They commended as visionary the proposal to reopen the tunnel to the museum by reimagining it with curving walls of reflective metal to create a new attraction within the landscape; they recommended that this area be designed to accommodate future access into the museum’s lower level as well as the plaza level. For the landscape design, they approved the proposed planting plan as responsive to the Commission’s previous comments.
In their discussion of the garden’s overall configuration, the Commission members noted the tension between the existing sense of an enclosed sanctuary for the display of art in a sunken landscape and the desirability of visual connection with the surrounding context of the National Mall; they concluded that the proposed lowering of the central wall and widening of the north portal into the garden would improve this connection. However, they expressed concern about the project’s accommodation of equitable barrier-free access; acknowledging the proposal for new ramps from the north and south along the west side of the garden, they raised concerns about the great distance that would still be required to gain access to all levels of the garden from the street level. They therefore requested further study of improving universal access, likely with the addition of an elevator, which could be designed as an expressive element within the garden or incorporated into the renovated tunnel connecting to the lower level of the Hirshhorn Museum building.
The Commission of Fine Arts appreciates the great multidisciplinary effort involved in developing a design that balances artistic, material, and technical issues in extending the spirit and public use of this significant landscape setting for art within the campus of Smithsonian museums along the National Mall. For the resolution of the outstanding issue of further improving universal access to the Sculpture Garden, please consult with the staff, which is delegated to complete the approval process for the final design.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Melissa Chiu, Director
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Independence Avenue and 7th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20560
cc: Hiroshi Sugimoto, Sugimoto Studio
Felix Ade, YUN Architecture
Alyson Steele, Quinn Evans Architects
Faye Harwell, Rhodeside & Harwell
Peter May, National Park Service