Perkins&Will Selected for New Bezos Learning Center

John Hill
7. June 2023
The Bezos Learning Center will sit at the eastern end of the 1976 National Air and Space Museum designed by Gyo Obata. (Photo: David Bjorgen/Wikimedia Commons)

This week's announcement comes nine months after we learned about the five anonymous proposals in the running for the project, which will be located on the site of the since-demolished restaurant added by Gyo Obata to the eastern end of the Air and Space Museum in 1988. We speculated that BIG, Morphosis, and Snøhetta might be behind a few of the schemes labeled simply "Firm A" through "Firm E" but did not expect Perkins&Will to be among them. 

The announcement does not reveal which proposal is attributed to Perkins&Will (that said, it is Firm D), the selection sounds like it was based more on qualifications than proposal: “[Perkins&Will] was selected because of its project experience, past performance and management approach. The firm has substantial experience in museum and educational facility design, and it integrates significant food service amenities and sustainable design strategies into those projects…”

Of six Perkins&Will projects listed as relevant on the Smithsonian's announcement, one of them is the institution's own National Museum of African American History and Culture. Although often attributed solely to Adjaye Associates, it was designed by a collaboration of of four firms called Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup; The Freelon Group has been part of Perkins&Will since 2014. Most important here is the presence of Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III, who served as client on both NMAAHC and the Bezos Learning Center.

The Bezos Learning Center is billed as “an Institution-wide resource, serving as a critical link between learners and the Smithsonian’s unparalleled collections.” The Center's first program is the Student Architecture and Design Challenge, which launched in May and is asking “undergraduate and graduate architecture and design students and early-career architects” in “teams of two to three” to “design an architectural element for the exterior structure” of the Perkins&Will-designed building.

Construction is expected to start on the Bezos Learning Center in 2025, with its opening taking place in 2027. That is an ambitious timeline, considering that — in addition to Perkins&Will, under lead designer Ralph Johnson, developing its proposal — the project will need to conduct a Section 106 historic preservation consultation, gain approvals from the National Capital Planning Commission and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, and consult with other federal agencies. And, as of now, a construction firm has not yet been selected.

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