Smithsonian picks architect for $130m Bezos Learning Center on Washington, DC’s National Mall


The Smithsonian Institution has picked Chicago-based architecture firm Perkins&Will to design what may prove to be the most dazzling addition in a decade to the National Mall in Washington, DC: the Bezos Learning Center at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). The new complex will be funded via a $200m gift from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos made to the Smithsonian, $70m of which went toward renovations of the NASM’s existing facilities, with the remaining $130m earmarked for a new education centre on the museum’s eastern flank.

Perkins&Will’s proposal for the site was one of five shortlisted by the Smithsonian last September, though at the time the firms behind each design were not publicly identified. Early renderings for Perkins&Will’s project depicted a complex defined by swooping and swirling forms inspired by the Milky Way. The early renderings only represent the firm’s proposed approach to the project; they will now begin the process of designing the complex. Construction is expected to begin in 2025, with an anticipated opening in 2027.

The firm is familiar with the stringent design constraints of working on the National Mall—it was involved in the design and construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The firm’s other institutional projects include the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, UK, and the University of Minnesota Bell Museum in St Paul.

“Having worked with the architects behind the National Museum of African American History and Culture, I understand how important a building’s design is to its mission, its functionality, its character and its ability to engage the people who enter its doors,” Lonnie G. Bunch, the Smithsonian’s secretary, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the architects of Perkins&Will on the design of the Bezos Learning Center to produce another unique Smithsonian landmark on the National Mall that will expand and enhance our educational impact.”

The Bezos Learning Center will rise on a site previously occupied by a glass pavilion designed by architect Gyo Obata, which housed a restaurant. It was demolished last winter. The Bezos Learning Center will house a restaurant, too, in addition to educational facilities.

The futuristic new wing for the Smithsonian’s most popular museum is just one of several construction projects afoot for the institution. Last October it revealed the two sites where it hopes to build new museums, the National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women’s History Museum.


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