The sculpture garden at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum, home to some of the museum's most iconic works, is to be redesigned and renovated for the first time since the 1980s. Museum officials announced that it has tapped the renowned architect and artist Hiroshi Sugimoto—who in 2018 redesigned the museum’s lobby—for the project.
Built and opened in 1974, the strikingly circular Hirshhorn museum building was designed by Gordon Bunshaft of the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill firm. Today the building is under nomination for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Over the past year, crowds have been gathering in the museum’s newly redesigned lobby, drawn to the space by furnishings crafted from the branches of a 700-year-old Japanese nutmeg tree and a brushed brass coffee bar operated by the city’s popular Dolcezza Gelato and Coffee shop. The bright ambiance, designed by Sugimoto, whose quiet, pensive photography was on display in a career survey at the museum in 2006, has more than met the museum's expectations of enticing new audiences to its contemporary art collection.
Behind the museum and located on the National Mall, the sculpture garden, which descends below ground by two staircases to a sunken plaza, is experiencing critical infrastructure issues, including flooding and deterioration of its perimeter walls. Sugimoto’s early plans include an enhanced entrance facing the Mall. The new designs call for the reopening of a long shuttered underground passageway that connects the garden to the museum plaza, as well as plans for a new area for large-scale contemporary works, performance spaces and intimate settings for the museum’s masterpiece collections.
The garden initially envisioned by Bunshaft was a sprawling landscape traversing the width of the Mall and featuring a reflecting pool. Sugimoto intends to hold true to much of the garden’s original plans. In 1981, the sculpture garden underwent renovations conducted by landscape architect Lester Collins to bring more shade and plantings to the space.
Sugimoto has held major exhibitions around the world and has designed indoor and outdoor spaces in Versailles and Japan. “As both an artist and an architect, Hiroshi Sugimoto brings a unique perspective to his designs and a deep understanding and respect for Gordon Bunshaft’s original vision for the garden,” says the museum’s director Melissa Chiu.