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Bjarke Unveils 'Radical' Plans for $2B Smithsonian Revamp

Very Famous Architect Bjarke Ingels, the fellow who has landed commissions for zootopias, Lego museums, and waste plants that double as ski slopes, has, not a day after news broke that his firm will be redeveloping part of London's Battersea Power Station, unleashed plans for the $2B design revamp of Washington D.C.'s South Mall campus, a "radical reinterpretation" of the Smithsonian buildings, as well as the mall-facing entrances to the National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M Sackler Gallery. In all, BIG's plans, to be rolled out in the next 10-20 years, are considered to be one of the grandest architectural projects D.C.'s National Mall has seen in more than a century.
The project pivots on ideas of openness and eden-like communal spaces. Surrounding the Smithsonian castle, a "gently tilted plane of grass," as Washington Post's Philip Kennicott describes, with "rakishly upturned corners" that serve as the entrances to the Sackler Gallery and Museum of African Art.

As the secretary of the Smithsonian said at the news conference, the plans "will offer open vistas, connected museums, galleries bathed in daylight, new performance venues, gardens that invite people into them, and it will visually attract visitors who will have an unparalleled experience."

(Kennicott, it should be said, doesn't have faith such gestures will succeed.)

The facilities themselves, too, show a propensity for openness and that "rakishness" that has Kennicott raising one figurative eyebrow. The red stone Smithsonian castle, which first opened in 1855, will get a new, optimistic Great Hall, one blown open by the removal of partitions.

Ingels doesn't pretend the plans aren't bold, calling the masterplan "an example of radical reinterpretation," one that attempts "to resolve the contradictions between old and new, and to find freedom within the boundaries of strict regulation and historical preservation."

And speaking of strict regulation, Kennicott at WaPo, who calls Ingels' plans "mere folly" in the headline, says it's likely the designs will be rehashed and watered down after "endless review."

"Now the hard part begins. There will be endless review, from myriad agencies and oversight groups, with historical preservationists playing an essential role in determining what is too cherished to be sacrificed. The engineering challenges were glossed over at the news conference, but creating new space underneath the Castle, and connecting it to the Great Hall above, will be a challenge, and expensive. Is it worth the cost? And will the carbon footprint of this vast construction project be offset by proposed gains in energy efficiency? And what of the Arts and Industries Building, which may or may not become the new Latino American Museum? Should we create new space when the use of existing space is undetermined?" Check out the renderings, below: