SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN ART MUSEUM

SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN ART MUSEUM

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Client Smithsonian Institution
Location: Washington, D.C.
Size: 20,000 sf
Program: Permanent Galleries
Cost: $1,500,000
Status: Completed 2006
Role: Celia Imrey, design and managing principal - Imrey Culbert

In 2006, the Smithsonian gut-renovated the old neo-classical Patent Building with a covered courtyard by Sir Norman Foster and a major upgrade of Modern and Contemporary Galleries, among others. The galleries faced major challenges for design: Too much daylight and no wall space.  The double-height windows wrapping the galleries and the pervasive white marble and grid of columns made the integration of a simple, usable wall system for modern and contemporary art very difficult.

In addition, we were asked to locate, isolate, and design several large-scale permanent displays within the historic triple-height volume of the Lincoln Gallery.  Among them, US Superhighway by Nam Jun Paik, is a cacophony of dozens of speakers from dozens of TV monitors, while David’ Hockney’s Snail Space, created while he was going deaf, required an experience of total silence in the gallery.  Working with Harvey Marshall Berling acoustical engineers, we developed one of the most sophisticated acoustical treatments in a single museum space.  

The wall system has see-through scrim transoms on metal frames that provide structural support for the floating walls while preserving a feeling of openness and fluidity between spaces.  In addition, the project included the gut renovation of the North Wing, also dedicated to modern art.

Both the building exterior and the Lincoln Galleries are landmarked requiring “reversible” design-build methods based on UNESCO conservation criteria. Despite this constraint, both the courtyard treatment and the final gallery installations with their contemporary aesthetic and engineering, seamlessly merge with the historic fabric of the Patent Building.

Copyright © Imrey Culbert LP
All Rights Reserved

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"Electronic Superhighway" - Nam June Paik, 1995

"Electronic Superhighway" - Nam June Paik, 1995

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Foster + Partners

Foster + Partners

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