Hirshhorn to receive major modernization after nearly 50 years


The famed Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C, has announced that New York-based firm Selldorf Architects will work with Chicago-based practice Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to develop a modernization plan for the museum’s interior and plaza. Nearly 50 years after its construction, the Hirshhorn will renovate its galleries and public spaces to respond to changes in contemporary art making and accessibility standards, as well as the drastic increase in attendance since 2017.


‘Art making has changed dramatically since our opening in 1974, and the Hirshhorn’s annual attendance has increased 40% in the past five years,’ says Melissa Chiu, director of the museum., ‘In response to these developments, the revitalization of our museum campus prepares us for the 21st century. We are pleased to work with SOM | Selldorf to do this.’

hirshhorn museum appoints selldorf architects & SOM to lead its largest renovation to date

image courtesy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (head image by Ron Blunt, courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum)



an ambitious, diverse, and sustainable museum 


The renovation by Selldorf and SOM addresses the changing needs of the iconic museum and the expansion of its exhibition spaces. In addition, the New York-based practice and Chicago-based firm will modernize the aging infrastructure, including artwork storage, vertical transportation, and stormwater management. The architects are expected to present a vision document in 2023, anticipating a draft public consultation process.


‘We are thrilled to be working together on the revitalization of the Hirshhorn Museum,’ mention Chris Cooper, FAIA, partner at SOM, and Annabelle Selldorf, FAIA, principal at Selldorf Architects, in a joint statement. ‘Ensuring that the building is better able to accommodate the museum’s ambitious programs, while serving a larger and more diverse audience, is of critical importance. And we need to be able to do so while making the building more sustainable.’

hirshhorn museum appoints selldorf architects & SOM to lead its largest renovation to date
the iconic cylindrical building was designed by Gordon Bunshaft in 1974, and is part of the Smithsonian Institution

image courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum



hirshhorn’s largest renovation to date


According to the Hirshhorn, the appointment of SOM and Selldorf marks the final chapter of the museum’s largest renovation to date, which consists of three phases and began in 2021 with the repair of the building’s facade. During the repairs, the building was covered with Nicolas Party’s Draw the Curtain mural, which was removed in October 2022.


The first project, expected to be completed by the end of 2022, includes replacing the museum roof and prefabricated panels to improve thermal performance and create new structural attachments. A second project, the revitalization of the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden by artist and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto, will begin in spring 2023. The Sculpture Garden redesign will expand Hirshhorn’s ‘front door’ on the National Mall to increase attendance by 300% and establish three distinct exhibition areas for modern sculpture, time-based and performance art, and large-scale commissions. Sugimoto’s plan also calls for the reopening of the Gordon Bunshaft-designed underground passageway that will reconnect the National Mall to the Hirshhorn Museum and plaza via the Sculpture Garden.

hirshhorn museum appoints selldorf architects & SOM to lead its largest renovation to date
installation view of Lee Ufan: Open Dimension at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

image by Cathy Carver, courtesy of Lee Ufan, via The Pace Gallery



project info: 


name: Hirshhorn’s Largest Revitalization in History
architects: Selldorf Architects in collaboration with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)