Hirshhorn Museum Section 106 Update


Docomomo US/DC


Advocacy, DC
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The Smithsonian Institution (SI) has continued to move forward with its planned revitalization of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The projects include a redesign of the sculpture garden and extensive repairs to the museum envelope including the replacement of all the precast panels on the building’s exterior. Docomomo US and Docomomo US/DC have been participating as consulting parties in the Section 106 review process for both projects. This involvement included attending a public consulting party review of new wall mock-ups for the garden in September 2019, a private consulting party meeting for the envelope repair project in Oct 2019 and a public consulting party meeting for the envelope repair project in January 2020.

Since expressing our concerns about the materiality choices in the garden renovation following the initial S106 meeting in April 10 and the September 2019 mock-up review, we have focused our contributions to the S106 review on the replacement of the precast panels on the Museum building façade. Given the high profile of the building and the number of other precast concrete buildings across the country that face similar issues, we are concerned about this project setting a precedent for replacement of a primary character defining feature of Modernist buildings. Smithsonian personnel stated that many options to retain and reinstall the panels were explored, and it was only after significant study that the decision was made to replace the façade panels.  The original pre-cast concrete façade panels are being replaced to improve energy efficiency, replace original deteriorated attachment anchors, address constructability challenges, and allow for the installation of new attachments that comply with current blast requirements.

Our advocacy has resulted in the Smithsonian providing additional information to consulting parties about the design constraints that require the replacement of the façade panels and overall enlargement of the drum by 6 inches.  Based on the information presented at the January 2020 consulting party meeting it was determined that the scope of the proposed Envelope Repair project will result in an adverse effect.  This is primarily true because the pre-cast facade panels are being replaced in their entirety, not because of deterioration, but in order to meet current blast requirements. Additionally, beyond the permanent loss of the historic fabric is the overall enlargement of the façade by 6” and the effect this will have on the relationship of the precast drum to the poured in place base.  Based on the finding of adverse effects the S106 signatories are in the process of drafting a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA).  As part of the MOA Docomomo has requested complete HABS documentation of the exterior of the building with photographs and laser scanning prior to construction, commitment from the Smithsonian to preserve and store at least one of the original pre-cast panels, and confirmation joint size between new panels will match existing or any deviation in joint sizing that arises during construction be agreed to by all signatories. SI has offered to partner with Docomomo to develop educational opportunities to explain the preservation approach for this project and we have accepted the offer. Docomomo US and Docomomo US/DC will be working with SI to develop articles, conference presentations, or other educational material about the preservation challenges of the project.

The January 2020 consulting party meeting included the review of sample mock-ups of the new pre-cast concrete façade panels. SI has been able to locate the quarry where the aggregate for the original pre-cast panels were sourced and the new panels will be made with aggregate from the original quarry.  All attendees at the meeting agreed that the mock-ups were a very good match to the original. However, the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), and the DC Historic Preservation Review Board will need to review and approve the mock-ups. CFA and NCPC have approved concept plans for both the envelope repair and garden renovation projects. SI is planning to seek final approval from CFA in March and NCPC in April.

Many thanks to Docomomo US/DC who originally drafted this update and for their collaborative efforts related to this important project.

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