CFA 18/JUN/15-7


Independence Avenue at 6th Street, SW
Washington, DC
United States

Smithsonian Institution
National Air and Space Museum
Replacement of building exterior and terraces, including new entrance vestibules with canopies
Review Type


Dear General Dailey:

In its meeting of 18 June, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the concept proposal for replacing the exterior facades and terraces of the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall.  The Commission approved the concept with numerous comments for further consideration as the design is developed.

In their discussion, the Commission members considered the project’s complex issues of historic preservation, building technology, programmatic needs, and interpretive themes.  While they noted the obvious competence of and care taken by the project team, they suggested that the design could go much further in expressing the technology of the museum’s subject of flight and space exploration.  While accepting the proposal to reclad the building in the same Tennessee Pink marble used in the original design, they expressed regret that other options for replacing the deteriorating stone panels with more modern materials—such as metal, enamel, ceramic, or glass—were not presented as viable options.  They recognized the impetus of the space program in developing such technologies as photovoltaic panels, and they identified the great opportunity in this project to express these innovative technologies in a more comprehensive way in the renovation of the building.  Instead of the current proposal to treat new entrance canopies and photovoltaic arrays as unrelated elements added to the reconstructed stone shell of the building, they recommended that these pieces be more fully integrated with each other—and even with the building enclosure panels—transforming the existing architecture to convey the critical role of technology in air and space travel.

For the redesign of the building’s landscape, the Commission members expressed strong support for the proposal to simplify and open up the low terraces surrounding the building as these are rebuilt to accommodate modern requirements of accessibility and security.  Observing that the site walls are not clearly related to the horizontal aesthetic of the building’s plinth, they suggested consideration of lowering where possible the height of planter walls around the site.

The Commission members hope that the opportunity presented by this project to express themes of design and science is explored along with a more conventional preservation approach for this highly popular and prominent museum, and they look forward to further review as the concept is developed.  As always, the staff is available to assist you with the next submission.


/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA

Gen. John R. Dailey, Director
National Air and Space Museum
Smithsonian Institution
P.O. Box 37012
Washington, DC  20013-7012

cc: Ann Trowbridge, Smithsonian Institution
Larry Barr, Quinn Evans Architects
Roger Courtenay, AECOM