Bjarke Ingels unveils master plan for Smithsonian's south mall campus

The centerpiece of the proposed plan is the revitalization of the iconic Smithsonian castle.

November 14, 2014 |

Bjarke Ingels’ firm BIG has revealed designs for the Smithsonian Institution’s 10- to 20-year renovation project of the south mall campus in Washington, D.C.

“The centerpiece of the proposed South Mall Master Plan is the revitalization of the iconic Smithsonian castle,” the firm said in a statement.

More than 150 years old, the castle serves as a visitor information center and the headquarters of the institution. The plan calls for bringing back the castle’s original great hall, which has been altered many times with partitions in the course of its existence.

The plan will also bring more cohesion between the museums and offer generous amounts of retail, cafe, and public gathering spaces.

The plan affects museums and gardens along Independence Avenue S.W. from 7th to 12th streets and will include an expanded visitor services center, new mall-facing entrances to the National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, as well as improved visibility and access from the Freer Gallery of Art to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

“The Master Plan provides the first-ever integrative vision for the South Mall,” said Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in a statement. “Bjarke Ingels Group has given us a plan that will offer open vistas, connected museums, galleries bathed in daylight, new performance venues, gardens that invite people into them, and it will visually attract visitors who will have an unparalleled experience.”

“It’s a great honor and a humbling challenge to reimagine one of the most significant American institutions on the front lawn of the nation’s capital,” said Bjarke Ingels, the founding partner at BIG and the architect of the master plan. “Together with the Smithsonian—with whom we have worked closely over the last year and a half—we have conceived a Master Plan for the south mall campus as an example of radical reinterpretation.

"To resolve the contradictions between old and new, and to find freedom within the boundaries of strict regulation and historical preservation, we have chosen to carefully reinterpret the elements that are already present in the campus," said Ingels. "By forging new links between the various technical, programmatic, logistical and curatorial demands, we have created a new landscape of connectivity and possibility. We believe this plan holds the potential to guide the Smithsonian South Mall Campus into the future while remaining firmly rooted in its heritage.”

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