• gerard van weyenbergh

Smithsonian Institution downgrades ambitious renovation project.

To take place over twenty years from 2014, the Smithsonian Institution's renovation plan (Washington DC) provided for, in addition to a restoration of existing buildings, a significant restructuring of the site, at a total cost of $ 2 billion.

However, the New York Times reports that this ambitious modernization will ultimately not occur as a whole. Priority is now given to renovation rather than restructuring of buildings. In particular, planned were the transformation of the 7,000 m² of gardens, the addition of new entries, seismic protection devices, and various services such as the creation of a cafeteria and a shop within the "Château," elegant 19th-century red brick administrative building. These elements are no longer part of the project.

The work has been entrusted to Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, and the site is divided into three phases. The first, still in progress, concerns the restoration of the Hirshhorn Museum's facade and the sculpture garden. The second, which will begin in 2023, consists of the renovation of the "Castle" and the Arts and Industries building (built respectively in 1855 and 1881), notably with creating an underground installation serving several buildings. The last phase, the restoration of the main garden and the building located nearby, will begin in 2029.

However, the recently validated creation of a national museum of Hispanic-Americans and a national museum of women's history (without a chosen location yet) was not questioned.

Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution brings together no less than nineteen museums and nine scientific research centers. It was founded and is managed by the American federal government, thanks to the donation and the will of the British scientist James Smithson (1765-1829). Its operational management is entrusted to a "secretary." Since 2019, this is Lonnie G. Bunch III , the first African-American to take up this post.

Asked about the reasons for this budget restriction, the latter replied evasively to the Washington Post that it is "simply the evolutionary process" linked to his arrival at the head of the Institution. Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas says the original plan was just a big picture for years to come, inevitably subject to post-hoc changes.

Like all American museums, the Smithsonian Institution is heavily penalized economically by the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic. © Le journal des arts