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.
Surprising Last Minute Changes to Final Section 106 Meeting - June 2021 Update
Following the March 2021 Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Section 106 consulting parties meeting, the Smithsonian was back at the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) on June 3rd presenting revised plans for the restoration of the original Gordon Bunshaft reflecting pool and additional rationale for why changing the material of the central inner partition wall from concrete to stacked stone was needed.
Those arguments seem to have fallen flat as many of the NCPC Commissioners continue to be concerned that the Smithsonian has not adequately justified the need for the change in material. Docomomo US, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, and many of our consulting party colleagues have been saying this for more than a year. For a Sculpture Garden in which the primary and historic use is the display of sculpture, modifying a core element for a secondary or transitory use such as performances, does not make a lot of sense.
So it was surprising, if not shocking, that Docomomo US along with our peers received a notice of the final Section 106 meeting to review the draft Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) would be in seven days and the group would meet in-person and not on a virtual platform, introducing yet another obstacle in this review process. In the two days since we were notified of this meeting, the Smithsonian has notified us of an additional meeting scheduled for July likely based on consulting party feedback.
This all has us scratching our heads at why the date and in-person nature of the June meeting was withheld from the consulting parties until one week before the proposed meeting. Perhaps it could be that the Hirshhorn will be reviewed just one day later on June 17th at the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) and expectations for a [final] vote on the proposal from NCPC on July 1st.
The public has a right to enjoy the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden as it was designed for the last fifty years as a quiet, contemplative, thoroughly modern, and historic garden. We have advocated for this position for over a year and believe our feedback has indeed made the Smithsonian's proposal better. With so much to celebrate, it is unfortunate the Smithsonian continues to push forward pursuing design elements that are significantly contentious and incompatible.
For more details on the current situation, read The Cultural Landscape Foundation's latest article, "Hirshhorn Proposal Hits a Wall" (June 8, 2021).