Smithsonian American Art Museum

Foster + Partners, Washington DC, 2007


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Fitting like a cap, the roof modernises the museum  

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  • Fitting like a cap, the roof modernises the museum     
  • The roof addition creates a usable indoor space    
  • The design has kept the courtyard feeling open and free    
  • Visitors enjoy natural daylighting in the cafe     
  • Children play under the glazed roof    
  • Dancers perform under the patterned shawdows    
  • Roof structure is reflected on the internal windows    
  • Vaulted form of the glazed units    
  • Shadows cast by the glazed units    
  • Structural support of the roof    
  • Vegetation can still grow as sunlight penetrates the courtyard still    
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum at night    
  • Roof structure by night    
  • Roof structure detail    
  • Vaulted roof detail    
  • Site plan    
  • Ground Floor Plan    
  • South elevation    
  • East elevation    
  • Long section    
  • Section east    
  • Glazing detail    

Enclosure of the existing central courtyard, transforming the galleries and creating a large event space in Washington DC

The enclosed courtyard acts as the central circulation space for the building - visitors can enter the surrounding galleries from here, and out of museum hours the space regularly hosts a variety of social events, including concerts and public performances.

The fluid-form, fully glazed roof canopy develops structural and environmental themes first explored in the design of the roof of the Great Court at the British Museum, bathing the courtyard with natural light.

The roof structure is composed of three interconnected vaults. The double-glazed panels are set within a diagrid of fins, clad in acoustic material, which together form a rigid shell that needs to be supported by only eight columns. Visually, the roof is raised above the walls of the existing building, helping to articulate the new from the old. Seen illuminated at night, this canopy appears to float, symbolising the cultural importance of the Smithsonian Institution.


  • Begun: 2004
  • Completed: 2007
  • Floor area: 8,500m2
  • Sector: Arts and culture
  • Total cost: £20M
  • Address: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, 20013-7012, United States

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