Three years after the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) revealed a sweeping $2 billion renovation of the Smithsonian Institution’s southern campus in D.C. (and seven years after the firm won the project), the overhaul has reportedly been dropped.
According to the Washington Post, which broke the news:
“[…]Six years later, a new Smithsonian administration has jettisoned the eye-popping elements of the $2 billion design by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, opting instead for a dramatically downsized version. Set to be presented publicly for the first time this week, the scaled-back plan focuses on the renovation and restoration of the James Renwick-designed Castle and the adjacent Arts and Industries Building (AIB), another National Historic Landmark designed by Adolf Cluss and Paul Schulze.”
That “new administration” refers to Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III, who was sworn in as the fourteenth Secretary of the Smithsonian on June 16, 2019. “It’s simply the evolutionary process, me coming in and asking certain questions,” said Bunch, according to ARTnews.
Whether it was the estimated 30-year timeline, pushback from preservationists, or the eye-popping cost of the project remains to be seen; AN has reached out to BIG for comment and will update this article accordingly. In the meantime, a scaled-down restoration is expected to be unveiled by the Smithsonian this Thursday, January 14.
BIG’s plans for the 17-acre campus were certainly ambitious. The site fronts the National Mall and the four-acre Haupt Garden is iconic, as is the Smithsonian Institution Building, also known simply as the “Castle,” which opened in 1855 but is in dire need of repair and reorganization. Radically, the firm had wanted to dig up garden and upturn its corners to allow light into the Quadrangle Building buried below, then construct a new landscape on the roof.
The Castle’s entrance would have been moved closer to the Mall, and the Hirshhorn Museum, which also sits on the campus, would have also expanded underground as well.
These changes didn’t sit too well with the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), the federal agency responsible for reviewing design proposals in D.C., and BIG was told to go back to the drawing board and return with a more preservation-minded approach. At the time, CFA members called it more of a redesign than a refresh and little news of the project had been released since.
All of the buildings on the Smithsonian campus are in need of mechanical upgrades at the time of writing. For example, the Quadrangle’s roof leaks and the Castle needs better protection against seismic activity. Work on the Castle’s restoration was slated to begin this year under the first phase of BIG’s plan, with the entire campus overhaul scheduled to wrap up in 2041.