Report of The Blue Ribbon Commission on the National Museum of American HistorySmithsonian Institution - National Museum of American History


(Appendix F: Transforming the National Museum of American History, Behring Center)

7. Essential Elements

The Museum has also considered what elements in addition to exhibitions should be on the public floors of the "new" NMAH.

photo of museum at night

The National Museum of American History, Behring Center

The following priorities have been identified:


  • A grand space that unites the three public floors -- an "aha" experience
  • Areas for gathering and rest -- both small areas within exhibitions and larger common areas
  • Visitor orientation -- both a central Welcome Center and kiosks throughout the Museum for making connections among exhibitions
  • A time line providing chronological context -- not as a separate exhibition but as an orientation component, perhaps available online in the Welcome Center and at kiosks throughout the Museum or as a graphic at the entrance to each exhibition, providing grounding for each exhibition experience
  • Information technology integrated throughout the Museum -- to make it possible for visitors to customize their exhibition experiences

Visitor Services

  • Decompression/transition areas at the entrances
  • Areas for gathering and rest -- both small areas within exhibitions and larger common areas
  • Brown-bag lunch facilities for school groups

Other Exhibition Spaces

  • Multiple changing exhibition spaces and showcases -- within galleries in one or two cases but otherwise for maximum flexibility not tied to a particular topic -- perhaps one per floor (5-10,000 square feet each, which can be subdivided for smaller shows), with a supporting endowment
  • Changing gallery and new acquisition cases/spaces devoted to showcasing collections
  • A testing or experimental space -- including a media lab -- to test design, education, or curatorial concepts

    photo of Kilby with chip

    Nobel Prize winner Jack Kilby, with the integrated circuit "chip" he invented in 1958

  • Exhibition staging and swing space


  • Performance spaces within exhibitions or in common areas -- if supported with continuing funding -- flexibly designed so that they can also serve as rest/gathering areas
  • Hands-on learning opportunities within exhibition spaces -- some facilitated (with funding support) but others stand-alone (not staffed)
  • Mid-sized lecture room (seating 100) -- flexibly designed with videoconferencing or computer-based multimedia technology
  • Theater/auditorium (seating 300-500) -- like Carmichael but accessible without entering the Museum -- flexibly designed for orientation, performances, and conferences, with green room/dressing rooms

    photo of Flanagan at the piano

    Tommy Flanagan at the keyboard, a performer in The American Presidency and Piano 300 public programs

Special Centers

  • Lemelson Center (10,000 square feet) -- prominently located, recognizing its central role in the work of the Museum and including an exhibition gallery, hands-on science center, and staff office space
  • Education center (20,000 square feet) -- including hands-on learning spaces, a theater space for storytelling and first-person programming, two workshop/classroom spaces (flexible for use not only for low-tech family programming, docent training, and conferences but also for high-tech school-oriented programs), children's experimental gallery, a resource center for teachers, a docent lounge, storage for teaching collections, and education staff offices

    photo of buffalo hide

    A Plains Indian story hide, part of the Hands On History Room

  • Museum reference center -- combining the Archives Center, the Dibner Library, and a "Views into the Collections" exhibit/study area (for on-line access to the collections but also for staff-supervised object study)

The above does not include functions currently housed on the public floors (fellow and intern offices, emeriti offices, other staff offices, collections storage, etc.), that will need to be accommodated or relocated to other floors.

Table of Contents | Appendix F.8. 2001 Vision Conclusion -->