National Museum of American History

Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

Project Details

Completed 2009
$80 million

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

2013 AIA|DC Chapter Design Awards

The National Museum of American History, Behring Center (NMAH) is one of the Smithsonian’s most visited Museums, and is home to over 3 million objects. Designed by Walker Cain of McKim, Mead & White, the museum is a prominent feature of the National Mall and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Since its opening in 1964, NMAH has undergone many changes reflecting evolving needs for the display of objects, the trend toward more thematic and story-driven exhibits, larger public gathering areas, the modernization of public facilities, and upgrades to the infrastructure. The Smithsonian envisions a dramatic increase in visitors at the NMAH in the coming years, a continuing modernization of exhibit galleries and facilities in general, and an expansion of educational, interactive, and multimedia offerings.

As part of a Design-Build Team, Silman has developed a Master Plan for the NMAH, and is currently proceeding with early phases of this comprehensive renovation project. The first stage of the Public Space Renewal Project consists of four packages of work, which will integrate infrastructure changes with the opening of the four major exhibits. In an effort to increase Public Programs and Educational Outreach, Silman will assist the museum, which intends to open the following major exhibitions: “America on the Move” (opened in 2003), “Price of Freedom” (opened in 2004), “Star Spangled Banner /For Which it Stands” (2006), and “Introductory Exhibit” (2006).

In addition to providing assistance with the four packages, Silman participated in a preliminary feasibility study to increase flow around the interior perimeter of the museum. Associated with this, Silman analyzed the existing columns and foundations and created preliminary designs for the perimeter circulation structure alternatives, the reinforcement of the existing structure, and the cladding system for the exterior.

The museum has long recognized the need for improved circulation and separation between exhibit and circulation space. The current project address these issues while giving the building an updated architectural character; and modernizing all building systems. In addition, new North and South Entrance Pavilions accompanied by new landscape features and perimeter security will be incorporated.