CFA 16/MAR/17-1


10th Street & Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC
United States

Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of Natural History
Access ramps at south entrance (Madison Drive)
Review Type
Previous Review


Dear Dr. Johnson:

In its meeting of 16 March, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the final design proposal for modifications to the Mall entrance of the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution on Madison Drive, NW. The Commission approved the submission, conditional on the resolution of several design details with the staff.

The Commission members commended the development of the project and the simplification of the figural guardrail design, which they characterized as elegant; however, they requested additional refinement of several elements of the design. Specifically, they commented that the transitions between the proposed railing systems are awkward, particularly at the upper landing where the railings meet the historic stylobate of the museum’s portico. For this condition, they recommended either continuing the guardrails on the southern side to terminate directly at the pedestal on the landing, or to return southward at a right angle similar to those on the opposite side of the walkways. For the detailing of the guardrail itself, they observed that the organic, branching pattern of the blade-like pickets appears to emerge only above the continuous handrail, creating the disjointed effect of a grassy fringe above a more orthogonal arrangement below; they suggested extending the branching pattern further down to create a more unified appearance for the guardrail. They also found that the thicker metal stanchions that curve outward to support the handrail appear unusually heavy and disrupt the more delicate pattern of the other pickets; if these must be larger for structural reasons, they should be further differentiated from the other pickets, perhaps by extending them lower. For the design of the railing base, they expressed concern that the narrow trough between the lower section of the guardrail pickets and the masonry support walls would collect leaves and other debris, and they advised refining this detail.

Regarding the proposed landscape plantings, the Commission members commented that the bright, saturated colors of the proposed plants may clash with the color of the specified granite and the elegance of the paving, railings, and walls. They advised preparing three-dimensional drawings of the ramps that document the proposed planting palette shown in all four seasons in order to fully anticipate the visual and color relationships of the plants with the architectural and site elements.

The Commission looks forward to the completion of this important accessibility project. For the resolution of the design of the areas identified above, please consult with the staff, which is available to assist you as always.


/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA

Dr. Kirk Johnson, Director
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
MRC 106, P.O. Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012

cc: Alyson Steele, Quinn Evans Architects
Claire Bedat, AECOM