CFA 18/JUN/20-4


1050 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC
United States

Smithsonian Institution
Freer Gallery of Art
Courtyard accessibility and landscape improvements
Review Type


Dear Mr. Robinson:

In its public meeting of 18 June conducted by videoconference, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept design for landscape and accessibility improvements in the courtyard of the Freer Gallery of Art, to be undertaken in conjunction with replacement of the waterproofing of the structure below it. The Commission approved the concept with the following comments and recommendations.

The Commission members expressed general support for the proposed placement of a sloped walkway along two sides of the courtyard to provide barrier-free access to the courtyard level from the museum’s adjacent corridors and for adjustments to the courtyard landscape, endorsing the conceptual approach of honoring the character of the original Renaissance Revival design by Charles Platt. They supported the proposal for the sloped walkway as derived from the existing architecture while minimizing change to the courtyard; they suggested that the generic character of the bronze handrails along the sloped walkway could be customized in a subtle way to refer to the museum’s mission and collections.

For the design of the landscape, they requested further development of the concept, supporting the intended approach to draw inspiration from the museum’s artworks, but which should also be informed by the work of Platt, who began his career as a designer of landscapes; they suggested that his legacy of executed landscapes and publications on Italian gardens should be considered more carefully as part of the design process. They commented that the current proposal lacks the lush character and prevalence of evergreen plants seen in the courtyard’s historic landscape designs; they recommended that the landscape be adapted in the spirit of Platt’s work rather than specifically restored, using substitutions of the plant palette to address thematic and microclimatic change. They acknowledged the constraint of the shallow planting depth resulting from the building area inserted beneath it in the 1980s; they observed that this condition will necessarily guide plant selections, noting that pots could be used to augment the range of plantings, and that trees may not be appropriate in the new design.

The Commission looks forward to further review of this project that builds upon the great legacy of the museum’s design and its collections. For the development of the design, including the plant palette and the details of the new walkway, steps, and railings, the Commission requested that the project team consult with the staff which, as always, is available to assist you.


/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA

Chase Robinson, Director
Freer Gallery of Art
Smithsonian Institution
P.O. Box 37012, MRC 707
Washington, DC 20013-7012

cc: Scott Teixeira, Hartman-Cox Architects
Kurt Parker, Rhodeside & Harwell