News & Politics

Smithsonian Hires Danish Architect to Redesign Campus

The Bjarke Ingels Group wins a $2.4 million contract to bring a modern eye to the historic buildings.

Fresh off his lecture on art and architecture in cities and public spaces at the 2013
Nordic Cool festival this past Sunday, Danish architect
Bjarke Ingels and the Smithsonian announced a $2.4 million contract to redesign the historic Smithsonian
campus on the south side of the Mall.

The design by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) will attempt to fix the current setup of the
campus, the Smithsonian told
The Washingtonian Wednesday morning. “The idea is to make the area more accessible and obvious that
[all the buildings] are part of the Smithsonian,” said
Linda St. Thomas, chief spokesperson of the Smithsonian Institution.

BIG, with offices in Copenhagen, New York City, and Beijing, was chosen among 30 applicants
for an 8-to-12-month contract to design the master plan for the area that includes
the following Smithsonian buildings: the Castle, the Arts and Industries Building,
the Hirshhorn Museum, the Sculpture and Mary Livingston Ripley gardens, the National
Museum of African Art, the Dillon Ripley Center, and the Freer and Sackler galleries.

Currently the area’s setup is not fluid, St. Thomas said. For example, the Hirshhorn
Museum has no entrance from the Mall, and many visitors don’t realize that behind
the Castle is a garden and an entrance to the Freer Sackler Gallery. With the redesign,
the Smithsonian hopes to “visually bring everything together so people can [ . . .
] easily get to one place from another,” St. Thomas said.

Ingels, 38, who has been called a rock star of the architecture industry, is
known for touting the idea of “hedonistic sustainability” in his work. At his lecture
at the John F. Kennedy Center Sunday, he talked about his sustainable approach to
solving real-world problems through his buildings and sites.

The Smithsonian said it chose BIG “based on their approach and other factors such
as experience in landscape architecture, public preservation, campus planning for
universities, engineering, and LEED accreditation for their architects and engineers.”

Ingels’s current US projects include the W57 apartment building in Manhattan along
the Hudson River and an observatory tower in Phoenix, Arizona. BIG recently won a
competition to design a waste-to-energy plant in Copenhagen with a ski slope on top
of the structure.

Although it’s been reported that the institution is only entertaining the possibility
of the redesign, the Smithsonian told
The Washingtonian otherwise: “It may depend on funding, but this is not an exercise.”

If Ingels’s past work is any indication, his Smithsonian redesign will no doubt turn
some heads.