1000 and 900 Jefferson Drive, SW
Dear Mr. Gover:
In its public meeting of 17 June conducted by videoconference, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept design submission from the Smithsonian Institution for the renovation of and additions to the properties in its historic core—the Smithsonian Institution Building (the Castle) and the Arts and Industries Building, located at 1000 and 900 Jefferson Drive, SW—and associated underground and site improvements. Expressing appreciation for the thorough presentation of this comprehensive renovation project, the Commission approved the concept submission with the following comments.
The Commission members acknowledged the need for this substantial undertaking proceeding from the South Mall Campus Master Plan of 2015 in order to bring this complex of historic buildings and landscapes to contemporary standards of access, structural and seismic safety, environmental performance, and visitor experience. They commented that the interventions, particularly on the exterior, should not detract from the existing character of the buildings, both of which are National Historic Landmarks. For the Castle, they raised concerns about the design of rooftop mechanical structures in the center part of the building, and they requested more detail about the design and visual impact of these proposed additions. While they acknowledged the necessity of providing a second means of egress from the upper level of the East Wing, they strongly questioned the design of the large connecting monitor structure on the roof of the East Range as proposed, which they said may have too great a visual impact on the building overall; they noted that the glazed connection would not be transparent as presented but would create an intrusion on the composition of three lancet windows in the east-facing gable of the Main Hall. Therefore, they suggested further study to minimize the size of this connector, possibly cladding it entirely in copper, or to find a location within the existing building to accommodate the necessary egress. They endorsed the concept of enlarging the areaways to allow light into a renovated basement level intended for public use, and they requested further consideration of how the new areaway walls would be finished, both in the building yard and above the building’s new foundations.
Regarding the Arts and Industries Building, the Commission members expressed general support for the proposal to make the four main entrances accessible and to insert additional egress doors in the existing building envelope; however, they noted that the design of the ramps and landing at the south side of the building facing Independence Avenue would create an undesirably constrained condition in the public sidewalk, and they recommended refining the design to limit the impact of the ramps on public space while still creating a welcoming entrance. They suggested that the composition of other elements, such as streetlights and trees, may help to make an appropriate frame for this entrance. For the landscape generally, they requested further study of the proposed redesign around both buildings, particularly regarding the integration of egress paths, access ramps, perimeter security, and areaways as they contribute to the comprehensive setting for the buildings, and they also recommended further study of the design for reconstructing the fountain garden area within the Enid Haupt Garden. Regarding the proposal to locate the project’s cooling tower plant at the National Museum of Natural History across the Mall, they requested more information about the design which is necessary for conceptual approval, recommending that this environmental strategy needs to be considered more carefully in the context of sustainable planning for the Mall.
The Commission looks forward to further review of this project in a revised concept submission that addresses these concerns. Please consult with the staff which, as always, is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Under Secretary for Museums and Culture
P.O. Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012
cc: Matt Chalifoux, EYP/Loring
Faye Harwell, Rhodeside & Harwell