The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Its commission was necessitated by Joseph H. Hirshhorn's donation of his extensive art collection to the Smithsonian in 1966. Completed in 1974, it was the first modernist building on the National Mall. The concrete-clad, drum-shaped structure drew both pans and raves from architecture critics. In 1981 the sculpture garden underwent a redesign led by landscape architect Lester Collins, the result of which is what exists at the site today. Additionally, the entrance plaza was modified in the 1990s by Urban & Associates (now the Office of James Urban). Today, the site is under review for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and receives close to 1 million visitors/year.
Sculpture Garden Redesign Update April 2021
In December 2020, Docomomo US and other consulting parties provided testimony during the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) review of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Revitalization. This review process took place outside of the Section 106 process but in parallel to those discussions. Based on research and stakeholder testimony, the NCPC approved the preliminary site development plans with a series of additional recommendations requiring the Smithsonian to "provide comprehensive rationale for the programming needs that require expanded aprons around the Bunshaft reflecting pool" and to "provide a comprehensive rationale for the programming need for the change in material" at the inner partition wall. As a means of responding to the NCPC's action, the Smithsonian subsequently held a Section 106 meeting in March 2021 providing a supplemental narrative on the revitalization plans. While most of the presentation was a continuation of previous discussions, notwithstanding new acoustics rationale, the Smithsonian provided a "Revised Reflecting Pool Alternative" that maintains the dimensions of the historic 1974 reflecting pool, a key defining element of the site's overall design. Docomomo US supports and was pleased by a follow up communication from the Smithsonian stating they are moving forward with this Revised Alternative for the pool. We believe this is a positive step forward in the process and appreciate having the opportunity to shape the thoughtful and restorative plans that continue to be developed by this process. While we remain concerned that this alternative plan continues to include the expanded terraced pool and the change in material of the inner partition wall, Docomomo US is generally supportive of the Smithsonian’s revitalization plans that successfully address repairs and improve accessibility throughout the Sculpture Garden for the general public and its guests. Docomomo US written feedback (available below) in response to the most recent proposals presented at the March 10, 2021 Section 106 meeting, can be found below.