If you are taking classes at one of the area universities and need to study, but you are looking for a change of scenery, the Smithsonian Institution offers some quiet, study nooks.
Kogod Courtyard: In the Donald W. Reynolds Center, which houses the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Kogod Courtyard is a 28,000-square-foot space with seating, free Wi-Fi and a Courtyard Café. Designed by Foster + Partners, a world famous architectural firm, the courtyard is covered by a wavy, 900-pound, glass and steel canopy. I suggest staking out a study spot here if you are sick of your stuffy library, dorm room or office, because with loads of natural light, ficus, black olive trees and water scrims by landscape architects Kathryn Gustafson and Rodrigo Abela, it at least gives you the sense that you are outdoors.
Lerner Room: Maybe natural light is something I crave working in a cubicle, but another bright space is the Lerner Room, on the third floor of the Hirshhorn Museum. The room, on the north side of the ring-shaped museum, has a panoramic expanse of floor-to-ceiling windows that offers visitors a great view of the National Mall. A curved couch positioned in front of the window makes it a perfect place to curl up with a book, and there are also large tables, which make it a great work space. Enormous Sol LeWitt drawings, one in color and the other in black and white, on the room’s other two walls also give it a cheery atmosphere.
Mitsitam Cafe: The native foods from the Western Hemisphere’s Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, Meso America and Great Plains cooked up at the National Museum of the American Indian’s highly-rated Mitsitam Cafe certainly draw crowds. But if you don’t mind the clamor of diners, or you actually work better with some background noise, then the cafe, with lots of seating and Wi-Fi, can be a nice place to study. Bonus: the traditional frybread makes for a sweet snack.
Enid A. Haupt Garden: Sick of the quad, but in need of some fresh air? Visit a Smithsonian garden. There are several along the stretch between the Hirshhorn and the Freer Gallery on the south side of the National Mall. My favorite is the immaculately-kept, four-acre Enid A. Haupt Garden just behind the Smithsonian Castle—and just above an underground complex that includes the National Museum of African Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the S. Dillon Ripley Center. Bring a blanket to spread under a large shade tree, and your laptop. There is free Wi-Fi. On a hot day, you can always retreat to the Castle Café.
Luce Foundation Center: This space on the third and fourth floors of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is a library of a different sort. The museum keeps more than 3,300 pieces of art from its permanent collection in large glass cases, and coins and jewelry in layers of drawers. If you take up post at one of the tables in the center, perhaps you want to time it with an Art + Coffee event that includes a brief talk or tour of the center with coffee and tea. Occasionally and usually on Wednesdays through Sundays, at 1:30 p.m., the center hosts a tour and talk, with complimentary coffee or tea, followed by an acoustic concert by a local musician.
Update 9/23/2011: This post now includes additional information about the Kogod Courtyard.