Sited prominently on the National Mall, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is housed in a 1964 McKim, Mead & White building — the final project by that storied firm. Over the decades, the museum deteriorated and exhibits became disorganized, prompting the Smithsonian to undertake an ambitious renewal program.
SOM devised a plan that included modernizing the building, bringing natural light into previously dark spaces, and completely reorganizing visitor pathways around an open core. The design team added a five-story atrium that is surrounded by artifacts culled from the museum’s entire collection. Other new elements include a grand staircase, a welcome center, additional galleries, and an environmentally controlled chamber to protect the Star-Spangled Banner. The full renovation effectively created a new building within a historic shell.