CFA 16/MAR/06-2


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

Smithsonian Institution
National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum (Old Patent Office Building)
Courtyard and exterior landscape and reconstruction of south stairs
Review Type
Revised concept
Previous Review


Dear Mr. Rombach:

In the meeting of 16 March, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the revised concept for the courtyard, exterior landscape, and reconstruction of the south stairs at the former Patent Office Building. The Commission was not able to approve the concept for the courtyard and requested that a revised design be submitted. The Commission approved the concept for the exterior landscaping and south stairs, with several suggestions for further study.

For the exterior landscape, the Commission members expressed concern about the design of additional perimeter security features. Ideally such features will not be needed; but if the Smithsonian does intend to include them, the members requested the opportunity for review, noting that such features could be obtrusive even if screened within landscaped hedges. The members commented favorably on the proposed metal gates that would separate the upper portion of the south stairs from the sidewalk; however, their preference was for unimpeded public access to the entire staircase, upper landings, and the building through the portico at the top of the stairs.

Regarding the design of the courtyard, the Commission members recommended further simplification of the landscape given the character of the historic building and the dramatic proposed roof. They expressed concern that there were too many objects placed within the space and that the overall design should be more subordinate to the architectural setting. The members felt that the courtyard should be for the enjoyment of museum visitors and that many of the proposed elements would impede circulation within the space. Some elements, such as catering stations, should be omitted and they suggested that catering needs be met through temporary equipment and adaptation of other facilities in the building. The design of other elements, such as the water "scrims" and planters, should be reevaluated for their scale and composition within the context of the courtyard.

The Commission looks forward to seeing the further development of this project. As always, the Commission staff is available should you require further assistance.


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, National Portrait Gallery
Deborah Nauta-Rodriguez, Smithsonian Project Executive
Warren Cox, FAIA, Hartman-Cox Architects