Rendering of Hirshhorn sculpture garden

March 10, 2021

Hirshhorn Nearing Final Design for Its Sculpture Garden Revitalization
Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Design Proposal Envisions a Sculpture Garden for the 21st Century, Creating Galleries for Performance Art and New, Large-Scale Sculpture Commissions

The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden announced today the completion of a sixth public consultation meeting for the revitalization of the Sculpture Garden by artist/architect Hiroshi Sugimoto. The public forum, held March 10 via Zoom, presented the goals of the project, the programmatic rationale and revised designs for the reflecting pool. The proposed design will be the first comprehensive update to Gordon Bunshaft’s 1974 campus since landscape architect Lester Collins’ modifications to the Sculpture Garden in 1981, adding much-needed infrastructure repairs in addition to improvements to visitor amenities such as shade and seating.

Sugimoto’s initial concept for the Sculpture Garden received unanimous preliminary approvals by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) in 2019. In December 2020, the NCPC granted preliminary approval of site development plans, with a request for further information on the programming in the central gallery and an additional design option for the reflecting pool. Smithsonian Facilities and the Hirshhorn released a Supplemental Narrative outlining preferred mission-driven alternatives which was presented at the meeting today.

To accommodate changes in art making since 1974/1981 and engage the broadest possible audience with emerging art forms, Sugimoto proposed the expansion of Bunshaft’s 1974 reflecting pool to accommodate a sculpture and performance art platform. Honoring the existing history of Bunshaft and Collins’ Asian design influences, the proposed design alternatives offer flexible seating for performance art requiring fixed and in-the-round vantage points. For optimal visitor comfort, the options propose increasing the shade and seating introduced by Collins in 1981, adding universal accessibility and the enlarging the cooling water feature, encouraging visitors to the National Mall to enter, linger and revisit.

Sugimoto’s design for the Sculpture Garden introduces stacked stone as exhibition walls across the space, including the inner partition wall that connects the east and west galleries. Stacked stone forms a flexible backdrop for the exhibition space that invites Hirshhorn curators to present the collection to the greatest effect, and welcome future forms and site-specific commissions. The interplay between the Sculpture Garden’s exterior walls of concrete aggregate link the outdoor galleries to the museum building. Stacked stone also enhances the addition of the sculpture and performance art platform by producing improved acoustics.

The date of a seventh public meeting, during which the public will be invited to view a mock-up of the proposed stacked stone, is forthcoming. A final design is expected to be submitted by the Smithsonian to the NCPC and the CFA for approval this year.

More information on the project and additional resources can be found at

History of the Sculpture Garden

Opened in 1974, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden opened in 1974 was designed by Gordon Bunshaft, a partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Bunshaft’s original design for the Sculpture Garden, which was never fully realized, traversed the entire width of the National Mall and featured a substantially larger reflecting pool. Bunshaft’s subsequent design, heavily influenced by Japanese garden design, created a neutral setting for art but with limited plantings and little shade. The garden’s last major modification was a 1981 renovation by landscape architect Lester Collins, a student of Japanese and Chinese garden design. The planned revitalization by American-Japanese artist-architect Hiroshi Sugimoto, a master of Japanese garden design, addresses critical infrastructure issues, creates East, Central, and West galleries for contemplative viewing as well as site-specific commissions and emerging contemporary artforms notably performance art. The Hirshhorn campus closed March 13, 2020 in response to

Covid-19 precautions. The Hirshhorn reopened the Sculpture Garden on Aug. 17. It remains the only Smithsonian museum facility publicly accessible.

About Hiroshi Sugimoto

Sugimoto has held major exhibitions in museums and galleries throughout the world, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Serpentine Gallery. His work is held in leading collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Centre Georges Pompidou and the National Gallery in London. Sugimoto has had a long relationship with the Hirshhorn, beginning with his first major U.S. retrospective in 2006 and, his innovative redesign of the museum’s lobby in 2018. He has designed a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces that create a beautiful linkage between art and architecture, including a series of installations at Versailles (2019), the Atrium Garden for the Japan Society in New York (2017) and the Enoura Observatory for the Odawara Art Foundation in Japan (2017).

For the revitalization of the Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden, Sugimoto leads his design team of New Material Research Laboratory Co. Ltd. in Tokyo, in association with Yun Architecture in Brooklyn, New York; Quinn Evans Architects in Washington, D.C., architect of record; and Rhodeside & Harwell Inc. in Alexandria, Virginia, landscape architect.

About the Hirshhorn

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and a leading voice for 21st-century art and culture. Part of the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn is located prominently on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Its holdings encompass one of the most important collections of postwar American and European art in the world. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers an array of public programs on the art of our time—free to all. The Hirshhorn Museum’s outdoor sculpture garden and plaza are open daily 10 a.m.– 4:30 p.m. The museum building is currently closed due to COVID-19. For more information, visit Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Image: Aerial view of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s revitalization of the Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden. Courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.