CFA 18/APR/24-1


600 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC
United States

Smithsonian Institution
National Air and Space Museum
Construction of a new building addition and landscape for the Bezos Learning Center
Review Type
Previous Review
Submitted Documents


Dear Mr. Cortez:

In its public meeting of 18 April conducted by videoconference, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed a concept design for a new multi-use addition, the Bezos Learning Center, to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, located at 600 Independence Avenue, SW. Expressing strong support for the proposed design as a welcome addition to the National Mall, the Commission approved the concept submission and provided the following comments.

The Commission members observed that the proposed addition’s spiraling configuration would create a strong thematic connection to and a striking visual contrast with the existing museum, in both its architectural form and its extension into the landscape. For the addition’s design, they commended the dynamic expression of the proposed exterior systems of metal panels for the outer volume and a glass curtainwall for the inner court. They supported the project team’s preferred alternative of tapered fins with integrated lighting, which they said would best reinforce this concept, and they suggested further study of the fin system to avoid weather-related staining. They also suggested further refinement of the condition of canopies, egress doors, and skylights where the addition adjoins the existing museum in order to maintain the clarity of the original building while avoiding awkward recesses at the ground level. They emphasized the importance of keeping the roof of the building as uncluttered as possible, praising the proposal to recess mechanical equipment into the floor below, and recommending that the skylight above the overlook terrace be kept to a low profile. They also noted the importance of the proposed observatory as the one place on the site where visitors will actually be able to see outer space, connecting the experience of the individual with the vast scale of the museum’s mission; they suggested that its design should be developed further to emphasize the small-scale, tactile qualities of its elements and to integrate it better into the landscape design.

For the design of the site, the Commission members endorsed the presented alternative that extends the spiraling formal concept outward from the architecture to the perimeter of the site; they recommended that the landscape be developed further to emphasize a sculptural quality beyond the graphic strength of the plan. They commended the landscape design’s universal accessibility, particularly of the curving ramp on the north, which will provide an equitable approach to the new addition. However, they recommended treating this approach more powerfully than lining it with ornamental flowering trees, observing that the new pathway will intersect at the site perimeter with the strong double row of street trees along Jefferson Drive and should establish a comparably strong threshold into the museum landscape. For the central court, they advised the careful placement of enough trees and seating to provide seasonal shade and comfort.

The Commission looks forward to further review of this important addition to the National Mall. As always, the staff is available to assist you in the development of the design.


/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA

Ron Cortez
Under Secretary for Administration
Smithsonian Institution
P.O. Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012

cc: Zena Howard and Bryan Schabel, Perkins & Will
Elizabeth Kennedy, Elizabeth Kennedy Landscape Architect