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Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery

Reinvigorating a National Historic Landmark

Project Location

Washington, D.C.


LEED NC Silver


AIA Committee on the Environment Top 10 Green Project, 2018

Project Type

Museum, historic renovation

The Renwick Gallery, the first purpose-built art museum in the U.S., was built in 1859 and last renovated in 1967-1972. Our renovation of this National Historic Landmark replaces and improves major building infrastructure systems, enhances historic features, and improves interior conditions to ensure the preservation and efficient operation of this treasured structure for future generations.

Employing an artful interpretation balancing heavy infrastructure improvements with a light architectural touch, the design takes advantage of already-modified interior core light wells and attic space to accommodate new infrastructure, thus avoiding impact to historic spaces. Since reopening, the Renwick Gallery has seen increased audience engagement, rising from 35,000 visitors annually pre-renovation to 500,000 visitors and growing. The building is one of the first museums in the U.S. to use an all-LED solution for gallery lighting, which enhances energy efficiency while preserving the level of controlled lighting necessary in a museum environment. Energy performance is improved 50% from the 2012 baseline operation. We provided architecture; interiors; electrical and mechanical engineering; audiovisual; information transport; lighting; preservation; and sustainability design services.


The design takes advantage of already-modified interior core light wells and attic space to accommodate new infrastructure; thus, avoiding impact to historic spaces.


Design Focuses on the Artwork

The goal for the lighting design was for artworks and the building itself to appear to be the lighting source. This is achieved by an array of carefully tuned track lights with a wide range of beam angles and deep cutoffs so that the target of the light is the primary thing seen.


Custom Solution for 3D Object-Intensive Collection

The team collaborated with the Smithsonian Institution’s in-house lighting designer to develop a kit of LED sources and filters that provides the complete range of lighting environments needed for an increasingly diverse range of exhibits. This was a major technological innovation that was used to support energy conservation.

lighting bulbs and fixtures

Increasing Gallery Flexibility

Embracing the owner’s vision to exhibit new methods of art-making requiring robust, yet flexible structural and building systems, the Grand Salon now supports 80 tons of additional load. The space was also retrofitted with technology infrastructure to accommodate a wide variety of future digital media arts installations and special events.


Improving Infrastructure for Energy Efficiency

Prior to the renovation, equipment was generally difficult to access and challenging to maintain. Careful placement of equipment allowed the team to avoid changing the volume of the building while accommodating a new boiler plant, air-handling units, and facility storage. Color coding of all piping jacketing allows greater clarity for system maintenance.

mechanical systems piping and tubing

Designer Insights

Reinvigorating a National Historic Landmark Washington, D.C.

A Bright Idea in Lighting Design

July 18, 2017

Good museum lighting is all about the control of light. For this project, our goal was to be among the earliest museums lit entirely by LED sources. So, we set out to develop a custom family of LED fixtures that would meet all the requirements of a museum-grade lighting system.

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Reinvigorating a National Historic Landmark Washington, D.C.

Historic Preservation

March 9, 2017

The desire to preserve heritage properties aligns with the broader goals of environmental stewardship. If climate change is not addressed, the effort the community has made to preserve our history will be lost to disruptive global change.

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Design Awards

2018 Top 10 Award

Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery earned a 2018 AIA COTE Award, which sets the standard for design and sustainability.

DC | MD’s Award of Excellence for Best Renovations/Historic Restoration, 2017

National Association of Industrial and Office Parks

Acknowledging exceptional contributions for sustainability

The Renwick Gallery was recognized by the The National Institute of Building Sciences Sustainable Buildings Industry Council.

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