The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Architect: DLR Group | Westlake Reed Leskosky
Owner: Smithsonian Institution
Location: Washington, DC
Project site: Historic structure or district
Building program type(s): Public Assembly – Entertainment/Culture
The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum was the first purpose-built art museum in the country, built in 1859 to the design of architect James Renwick, Jr. and was last renovated between 1967 and 1972. The 21st century renovation replaced and improved major building infrastructure, enhanced historic features, and improved flexibility for exhibits. The project included restoration of two long-concealed vaulted ceilings; re-creation of the original 19th-century window configuration; replacement of all building systems; and improvements for accessibility. The project achieved a 50 percent reduction in annual energy use, while welcoming more than 500,000 visitors and 180 million social media impressions in its first six months.
"The Renwick Gallery renovation wove complex and robust new systems while preserving the impressive historic design and collection and allowing opportunities for new works to be displayed." ~ Jury statement
A complex historical preservation: The major renovation of The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum preserves and respects the historic character and building envelope of the National Historic Landmark building, while modernizing infrastructure and systems with state-of-the-art energy efficient technologies. Originally built in 1859, the Renwick Gallery is the first purpose built museum in the United States and one of the first major projects of the modern historic preservation movement in the 1960s. Following its renovation 45 years ago, the facility had begun to reach functional obsolescence. This project represents a complex historic preservation performed with a broad group of stakeholders; including the Smithsonian, the arts community, visitors to DC, and local, regional, and federal governmental agencies. Priorities were integrated to meet a tight budget, a schedule driven by minimizing closure of the museum, and a strong commitment by the Smithsonian to institutional sustainability. Flexible and predictable environmental control for 21st century exhibits was a top priority.
Design strategies benefit triple bottom line: The project team demonstrated that a historic building can be restored and modernized to today’s building codes and standards while meeting an aggressive brief for environmental control, budget, and schedule. The core design team of specialists in sustainability, architecture, interior design, MEP engineering, technology design, historic preservation, and architectural lighting design were from a single firm. By utilizing this integrated design structure, the team was able to provide multiple benefits:
- Social: safe and sustainable building conditions for the collection, rehabilitation of this treasured historic structure for future generations, and an enhanced and more open visitor experience.
- Economic: a renovation that improves major building infrastructure systems, while minimizing costly interventions and reducing resource use.
- Environmental: an approach compliant with current building codes and efficiency standards, without claiming exemptions or altering the building’s form.