Smithsonian slashes $ 2 billion expansion plan

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The Smithsonian’s mind-boggling $ 2 billion expansion plan was supposed to propel the institution into the 21st century.

Complete with an ambitious expansion of its 19th century red administrative building, the Chateau, which reportedly added restaurants, shops and restrooms, and new entrances overlooking the National Mall to the National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery’s concept designs for its south campus were unveiled with great fanfare in 2014. The first phase, which included repairs to the exterior of the Hirshhorn Museum, was already underway.

But on Wednesday, the organization said its master plan would no longer include any of these elements and had instead been revised to focus on restorations inside and outside the castle and on interior and underground improvements to the castle. arts and industries building, which has been largely closed since 2004 for renovation.

Ann Trowbridge, associate director of planning for the Smithsonian, said preserving the buildings had been the focus of the redesign from the start. “The key aspects of the master plan for the castle, the AIB and the Hirshhorn have always focused on the restoration and renovation of their historic fabric,” she said. “And that continues to be the priority.”

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Designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, the original plan would have dramatically reshaped the 17 acres surrounding the castle into a gateway for visitors over the next 20 to 30 years, with construction set to begin this year. He would have moved the loading dock to enlarge the garden behind the castle and added a shock absorbing plate under the building for seismic protection. (Carly Bond, a historic preservation specialist at the Smithsonian, said a proposed seismic-based insulation system would still provide earthquake protection.)

The scaled-down plan, which was first presented publicly on Wednesday afternoon to a virtual audience of community leaders, focuses on the renovation and restoration of two national historic monuments: the castle, designed by James Renwick Jr. and completed in 1855, and the Arts and Industries Building, designed by Adolf Cluss and Paul Schulze and constructed in 1881. It also includes a new central underground utility plant that will service several of the buildings, including the Castle and the arts and industries.

Lonnie G. Bunch III, who became the first African-American secretary of the Smithsonian Institution when he took office in 2019, told the Washington Post on Monday that the changes to the master plan were “just the evolutionary process” that resulted. of his “arrival”. and ask some questions. He said he had delegated the implementation to Kevin Gover, the acting undersecretary for museums and culture.

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The Smithsonian spent $ 5.5 million in architectural and research fees for the master plan unveiled in 2014. Reacting to the proposal, some people lamented the loss of the peaceful Enid A. Haupt Garden, although the Smithsonian has later announced that it would be kept, while others worried that earthquake protection measures and the castle’s underground expansion would pose a risk to the building.

Linda St. Thomas, chief spokesperson for the Smithsonian, said in an interview Tuesday that the master plan, which was approved by the National Capital Planning Commission in 2018, was simply a vision for the next decades of the campus. “We know there will be changes in the projects as they are approved and individually reviewed by the public,” she said.

But the Smithsonian’s finances were hit during the pandemic. The institute lost $ 49 million between March and September due to coronavirus-related closures, and it has abandoned plans to open its first overseas exhibition space in London in partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum in September. Since the revised plan for the castle and the arts and industries building focuses on essential upgrades such as electrical and plumbing systems and a new roof and new windows, it will be funded primarily by Congress, has to first reported the Post. The discounted cost was not disclosed.

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The Smithsonian is currently completing the first draft of the master plan, a renovation of the exterior of the Hirshhorn Museum and, soon, the sculpture garden. Construction of the castle and the arts and industries building is expected to begin in 2023, St. Thomas said, and is expected to take at least five years. (The last major renovation of the castle was completed in 1968.) The third project, the removal and subsequent restoration of the Enid A. Haupt garden to replace the roof of the building below, is not expected to begin until 2029.

Several new museums could also soon join the campus: a National Museum of Latin American and a National Museum of Women’s History, both recently approved by Congress as part of its year-end spending bill. St. Thomas said the Arts and Industries building is being considered to house the Latin America Museum, but a site has yet to be selected.

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