The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History today announced plans for a major architectural transformation to focus on three areas: architectural enhancements to the museum’s interior, constructing a state-of-the-art gallery for the Star-Spangled Banner and updating the 42-year-old building’s infrastructure.
To prepare for the renovation work, the museum will begin closing some of its exhibitions this spring and summer and the entire museum will close to the public as of Sept. 5. The last day to visit the museum will be Labor Day, Sept. 4.
Construction will begin in the fall of 2006 and the museum is scheduled to reopen by summer 2008, marking the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Star-Spangled Banner conservation project. The architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP of New York and Turner Construction are responsible for the overall planning, design and construction. New York-based design firm Chermayeff & Geismar Inc. will work with SOM on the new permanent gallery for the Star-Spangled Banner.
“The Star-Spangled Banner is one of our nation’s most treasured objects, a symbol of what this country stands for,” said museum director, Brent D. Glass. “Its new surroundings are part of a strategic plan to ensure the long-term preservation of the flag and to revitalize the entire museum to tell the story of America and help future generations experience what it means to be an American.”
“The National Museum of American History is a fundamentally important national treasure,” said museum board chairman Richard Darman. “These changes will dramatically transform the building and the presentation of its collections, inspiring millions of visitors by creating a grand, open and easily navigated environment.”
The renovation project addresses three specific areas:
An abstract flag, made of lightweight, reflective polycarbonate and approximately 40 feet long and up to 19 feet high will soar above the entrance to the new Star-Spangled Banner gallery and will become the new central focal point of the second floor where more than two-thirds of the museum’s visitors enter. Visitors to the flag gallery will experience the 30 by-34 foot wool and cotton Star-Spangled Banner in a new setting with floor-to-ceiling glass windows designed to evoke the “dawn’s early light” in which Francis Scott Key saw the flag, still flying above Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor in 1814. Conservation of the flag, which began in 1998, was primarily funded by Polo Ralph Lauren, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Congress with special support from Save America’s Treasures.
By removing the marble panels that currently block the view to the museum’s third floor, the architects will create a central core atrium with a new skylight that will dramatically open the building, and a grand staircase will connect the museum’s first and second floors. The central core area is defined as the three-story space encompassing the museum’s two main entrances on the first and second floors and the third floor space immediately above the entrance areas.
Extensive 10-foot-high “artifact walls” on both the first and second floors will showcase the breadth of the museum’s 3 million objects and a Welcome Center on the second floor will help visitors with orientation in the museum. There also will be new entrance vestibules at Constitution Avenue and Madison Drive which will help alleviate crowding. On the first floor, there will be an exhibition gallery for the museum’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, a new lobby for the 275-seat Carmichael Auditorium and new retail operations.
The renovation work will include replacing and relocating public and staff elevators, resulting in improved access to the lower level and the three exhibition floors; creation of several new restrooms, including four family restrooms; replacing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at the central core; upgrading fire and alarm systems; improving electrical systems; and improving security.
The current renovation project will cost approximately $85 million, of which a total of more than $45 million comes from federal funds which will cover the cost of the infrastructure replacement, restrooms, elevators and protection for the collections during construction. Of the $80 million that philanthropist Kenneth E. Behring pledged to the museum in 2000, $16 million will be applied toward the architectural enhancements, including the soaring five-story central atrium and the glass staircase to connect the first and second floors. A portion of the $41.5 million donation from the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Foundation will support the creation of a new Lemelson Center gallery.
Museum Activity During Renovation
During the renovation, museum staff will continue to occupy the building and will be planning future exhibitions and programs; working on research projects and education initiatives; conducting off-site public programs and performances; acquiring new collections; and extending the reach of its Web site with new online exhibitions and features. Information and updates about the museum’s renovation work will be posted on the Web site and the public may subscribe to a free monthly electronic newsletter to receive information on traveling exhibitions, public programs and plans for reopening.
Designed by Walker Cain of McKim, Mead & White, the museum opened in 1964 as the Museum of History and Technology. Since then, the building has undergone many changes, including the removal of escalators, the creation of additional interior walls for exhibition space and the expansion of staff office space onto the first and third floors. It was renamed the National Museum of American History in 1980. In May 2002, a Blue Ribbon Commission issued a report with seven key recommendations for improving the architectural and aesthetic setting for museum exhibitions and visitors’ experiences. Those recommendations included opening the central section or “core” of the museum; treating the Star-Spangled Banner as the museum’s central icon; creating a chronological introductory exhibition to American history; improving lighting; adding exhibition space; and reducing clutter.
Renovation Architect and Firms
Founded in 1936, Skidmore Owings & Merrill is one of the world’s leading architecture, urban design, engineering and interior architecture firms. SOM’s portfolio includes two Chicago landmarks, the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Center; the design of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden; and other performing arts and education buildings.
Turner Construction, founded in 1902 is a known builder of many distinctive museums and other public projects including the addition and renovation at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., the Metropolitian Museum of Art in New York and currently the Newseum building at Pennsylvania and 6th Street. Turner is the leading general building contractor in the United States and has a network of 45 offices including the local office in Arlington, Va.
Chermayeff & Geismar Inc., founded in 1960, is one of the leading graphic design and exhibition design firms in the U. S.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History traces American heritage through exhibitions of social, cultural, scientific and technological history. Collections are displayed in exhibitions that interpret the American experience from Colonial times to the present. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W. The museum will have special summer hours from May 26 to Sept. 3, when it will be open from 10:00 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Labor Day, Sept. 4. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at: americanhistory.si.edu or call (202) 633-1000.
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