BIG to design Smithsonian masterplan

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A team led by Danish firm BIG has been selected to design the Smithsonian Institution masterplan in Washington DC, USA.

BIG’s team which will rethink the historic Smithsonian campus, world’s largest museum and research complex consisting of 19 museums, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities.

Located at the south side of the National Mall in Washington DC, the 160-year-old cultural campus, which include 11 of the renowned institution’s museums and the Smithsonian Castle from 1855, is in need of re-connection to its adjacent buildings and the public realm.

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The winning team of the $2.4 million contract will draft the first phase of the master plan, creating a gateway that invites visitors to learn, experience and navigate seamlessly through the Smithsonian buildings and gardens.

“BIG designs are innovative, analytical, unexpected and intelligent. We believe they can develop a plan that will enable us over the next decade to transform a disparate group of much-loved buildings and outdoor spaces into a place that is more dynamic, social and active,” commented Christopher Lethbridge, Smithsonian Institution.

BIG’s design seeks to reinstate the original castle as the cornerstone building and the symbolic home of the Smithsonian Institution to serve as a welcoming entry point and an information hub for the visitors.

The currently hidden central garden is to be reconnected to the national mall by creating a striking grand entrance for the castle and adjacent museums.

“It’s a great honor and a humbling challenge to be invited to re-imagine one of the most significant American institutions on the front lawn of the nation’s capital, commented Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner, BIG.

He continued: “The abundance of historical heritage, the diversity of architectural languages and the cacophony of exhibits are tied together by a labyrinthine network of spaces above and below ground – inside and outside. Our task is to explore the collections with The Smithsonian and together attempt to untie the Gordian Knot of intertwined collections to unearth the full potential of this treasure chamber of artifacts.”

The design will also include an entrance from the central garden providing access to a subterranean museum network which connects more than four museums in a maze of underground galleries, tunnels and annexes.

Large public voids tunneling from collection to collection, space to space simplify and reorganise the existing condition below ground, improving the connectivity and access to the underground spaces.

As the visitors descend down the lower levels from the corner entry, they are able to see and enjoy all the levels of the museum at once.

The first phase of the Smithsonian Campus Master Plan is expected to be delivered in the next 12 months.

Other members of the team include Surface Design, Traceries and Robert Silman Associates, further supported by Atelier Ten, GHT Limited, Wiles Mensch, Weidlinger Associates, VJ Associates, Protection Engineering Group and FDS Design Studio.

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