SOM and Selldorf Selected to Revitalize Hirshhorn Museum

John Hill
1. November 2022
Photo: Gunnar Klack/Flickr

The revitalization project is the largest for the Hirshhorn since its completion in 1974, so it is fitting that SOM, the firm that designed the distinctive, donut-shaped building (under partner Gordon Bunshaft), is involved, collaborating with Annabelle Selldorf, whose firm has become the go-to for galleries and art institutions in recent years. 

The museum's modernization plan is predicated on a 40% increase in attendance over the last five years and will include the upgrading of galleries and public spaces, and addressing aging infrastructure, fine art storage, vertical transportation, and storm water management.

The SOM | Selldorf joint collaboration was selected following a competitive process carried out by the Smithsonian and the Hirshhorn. Next year, SOM | Selldorf is expected to submit a visioning document in anticipation of their concept design, which, per a press release, "will be subject to a public consultation process."

It remains to be seen if that process will be a smooth one or if it will be controversial, as when the concrete building was first unveiled on the National Mall nearly 50 years ago, or when Hiroshi Sugimoto's design for the museum's sculpture garden met strong opposition over the proposed changes to the landscape designed by Lester Collins in the early 1980s.

It's too early at this stage in the SOM | Selldorf project to known any details on the team's approach to the modernization. But most important now is that the appointment is the first step in the last part of a three-phrase upgrade to the museum; the first being the facade repair already completed and the second being the sculpture garden, which gained approvals late last year and is set to start construction in spring 2023. The garden will reopen a connection to the museum underground, as originally designed by Bunshaft, strengthening the Hirshhorn's connection to the Mall — and most likely leading to even higher attendance numbers.

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