CFA 15/SEP/05-2


National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of American Art (Old Patent Office Building)
7th and F streets, NW
United States

Smithsonian Institution
National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of American Art (Old Patent Office Building)
Courtyard enclosure and landscape
Review Type
Concept development


Dear Mr. Rombach:

At its last meeting of 15 September, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed and approved the final design for the structure to enclose the courtyard of the Old Patent Office Building. The Commission members raised concerns about the visual impact of the gridded roof structure with two-foot-deep tapered ribs which also may cast strong shadows on the historic architectural walls; they also asked that the type of glazing be studied for its effect on the viability of plantings in the courtyard.

At the same meeting, the Commission reviewed a concept design for proposed landscape treatment for the entire site including the courtyard and the perimeter of the building. The members expressed concern about the complexity of the proposed courtyard landscape design, noting that the proposed scheme, with its large water feature, divides the space into many small pieces and may compromise the use of the space.

They also commented that the proposed interior balcony and stairs constrict the narrow axis of the courtyard, are arbitrary and alien to the historic architecture of the building, and should be omitted. The Commission members asked that a simpler treatment for the courtyard be pursued and look forward to seeing a revised concept for the landscape.

The Commission also commented that the presentation was not sufficiently detailed for a substantial concept review of the exterior landscape design and asked that the proposed design should incorporate perimeter security design elements that may be required as early as possible. Regarding the reconstruction of a monumental stair to the south portico of the building, the Commission refers the applicant to the action letter of 10 February 2005 explaining the disapproval of the proposed stair at its meeting of 25 January 2005.

The Commission looks forward to seeing further development of the landscape design for both the courtyard and the exterior of the building and as always, the Commission staff is available should you require further guidance.


/s/Thomas Luebke, AIA

Harry Rombach, Associate Director for Facilities Master Planning Smithsonian Institution
P.O. Box 37012
VB8300 MRC973
Washington, DC 20013-7012

cc: Elizabeth Broun, Director, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Marc Pachter, Director, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
Deborah Nauta-Rodriguez, Smithsonian Project Executive
Mary K. Lanzillotta, AIA, Hartman-Cox Architects