National Museum of American History’s Transformation Continues with West Exhibition Wing Plans

November 17, 2011
The transformation of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will continue with a major project to renew the building’s 120,000-square-foot west exhibition wing. (The museum’s center core and east wing will remain open.) The plans feature new galleries, an education center, interior public plazas and performance spaces as well as modernizing the infrastructure in this section of the building, including wireless environments. A new panoramic window on the first floor will give a sweeping view of the Washington Monument and connect visitors to the National Mall's landmarks.

Exhibition closings began in October with the Lemelson Center’s Spark!Lab and will continue through early 2012. The museum expects to receive construction proposals by late spring 2012. Architecture firm EwingCole is responsible for the overall planning and design. The west exhibition wing will begin reopening in winter 2014 to coincide with the museum’s 50th anniversary.

Visitors to the National Mall can continue to visit the museum and view exhibitions exploring transportation, military, numismatics and political history, as well as the Star-Spangled Banner and the newest iteration of the First Ladies Collection, “The First Ladies,” which opens to the public Nov. 19 with more than 26 dresses on view.

When the west wing reopens, new exhibitions will explore the history of American business and innovation, highlight “hot spots” of invention throughout history, examine the role of democracy in America and showcase American culture while new public plazas will provide space for programs and public gatherings.

“The renovation’s overarching theme will be centered on the core principles and the very dynamic of American democracy,” said Marc Pachter, the museum’s interim director. “Democracy is what shapes our economic life, our cultural life and, in short, what makes America, America. And visitors will see this reflected in future exhibitions, the education center and in programs and national outreach.”

The first floor will house the museum’s new 22,000-square foot education center—a laboratory for learning and teaching American history. The center will feature a new and improved Spark!Lab; a new exhibition, “Places of Invention;” a special space for children under 5; a demonstration stage; and the Object Project, an innovative plaza with activities and objects that help visitors find their place in history. The second floor’s focus will be on American democracy with a civic plaza and an exhibition while the third floor will feature a new, state-of-the-art Hall of Music that can host the museum’s Smithsonian Chamber Music Society and Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.

The Alexander Calder sculpture “Gwenfritz” will return to its original location on the west lawn at 14th Street, facing the Washington Monument and contributing to the monumental cityscape. The Calder was commissioned by Gwendolyn Cafritz and officially given to the Smithsonian in 1969.

The museum began closing galleries and exhibitions in October with the Lemelson Center’s Spark!Lab. The center’s popular “Invention at Play” exhibition will close after Thanksgiving weekend and most of the “Science in American Life” exhibition will also close in November. Visitors will have an extra opportunity to see old favorites with the museum’s extended hours during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays when the building will be open until 7:30 p.m. Nov. 25 and 26 and Dec. 26 through Dec. 30. The exhibition closing schedule is subject to change. Please check http://americanhistory.si.edu for the most up-to-date information. The museum will release further details on exhibition closings and the renovation in January. In 2008, the museum reopened after a two-year architectural transformation of its central core, including a five-story skylit atrium surrounded by artifact displays showcasing the breadth of the collection. A grand staircase links the museum’s first and second floors and the renovation’s centerpiece was a state-of-the-art gallery for the Star-Spangled Banner. It also included the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Hall of Invention, the Albert H. Small Documents Gallery and The Rose Gallery which will showcase “The First Ladies,” adjacent to “The American Presidency” exhibition.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To learn more about the museum, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).