What can BIG do for the Smithsonian?

When I heard today that Bjarke Ingels Group will be producing a master plan for the core block of the Smithsonian Institution, I was not really thrilled. Their work is engaging and sharp, but it’s also can come across as trendy and disposable. The buildings I have visited feel cheap and unsubtle in their handling spaces. It’s personal taste thing, but I don’t like what they’ve built.

But then I remembered that the great thing about master plans is that you don’t have to follow them very closely, so you can keep what you want and take what you need. The drawings and guidelines are not permanent impositions on the urban landscape. They’re ideas. Ideas are cheap and BIG is good at rethinking basic  concepts in fresh ways, even going so far as to be able to propose how to realistically bring unconventional projects to reality. I don’t know if I would like to see Morphosis’s intervention in the Arts and Industries building, but it did cause me to look at the building again, to see its qualities and how it might be adapted.

Too much architecture in DC starts out tame and ends up lame. Sometimes its because of design review and sometimes its because of style anxiety. So, it’s important to start thinking big here, and dial it down when it comes to a serious proposal. So, I say we see what BIG proposes for what has to be the most heterogenous block in DC – The Castle, the Hirschorn, the Freer, and the Ripley Center – that’s most of the past two centuries’ movements – and let their ideas challenge whatever architects complete each project.

2 Comments

  • February 27, 2013 - 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Just for the record we have never had an architect of record for any of our built projects. All of the projects have been entirely done by us through all phases of work. Regarding the quality of construction I guess this is a subjective thing but receiving an award from Detail Magazine for Best Steel Project probably does not happen for poor quality and execution. I would ask you to visit our buildings and to ask questions that would lead to answers that are factual instead of spreading gossip. Thanks for your other insights, K-U

  • February 27, 2013 - 7:05 pm | Permalink

    I apologize, Mr. Bergmann, for suggesting you use an architect of record. I had heard that in a formal setting, from a very respected professional in the architecture business. It’s possible he was referring to the different level of technical resolution expected from architects depending on the delivery methods in the US and continental Europe. So, I was certainly in the wrong and I apologize.

    Otherwise, I almost exclusively write about buildings I have seen. I don’t expect anyone to read my history, but the exceptions are mostly Russian content that I have brought into English. You should also know that most architecture firms do not respond to my requests, even if they are overly friendly. So please understand that I am surprised that a partner at an internationally recognized design firm would respond to my brief observations, meant to frame the role of BIG to a public in DC that freaked out when a similarly high-profile firm proposed a temporary structure in the same area.

    I will admit that I have only visited the three apartment buildings in Orestad (the 8 House was under construction in the summer of 2010), so those are the early, early projects. I guess I did not see the irony or playfulness of details you get at the OMA projects I have seen, like the McCormick Center, Rothschilds Bank, or the Seattle Public Library. Perhaps I was wrong. I might see it differently today.

    I wish your office the best on this project.

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