Hirshhorn Museum Building is a ‘Functional Sculpture’ on the National Mall

WASHINGTON, DC—The National Mall is lined with Smithsonian museums that house world-class collections of art and artifacts. The Hirshhorn Museum is unique among the structures in that the building itself is a sculptural work of art.

Located halfway between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol, the Hirshhorn was designed by Gordon Bunshaft (1909-1990), a partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and a Pritzker Prize-winner. According to the museum, Bunshaft conceived of the “hollow-centered, elevated cylinder” as “‘a large piece of functional sculpture’ among the shrine-like structures of the National Mall.”

The Hirshhorn collects and exhibits modern and contemporary art in a range of mediums. The buildng’s circular design provides curvilinear gallery spaces that elevate the experience of certain shows, such as the recent Andy Warhol “Shadows” exhibit. The continuous display of Warhol’s colorful canvases on the rounded walls created a transforming experience. The cylindrical galleries are particularly viewer friendly, guiding visitors through exhibits and returning them back to where they started.

Completed in 1972, the Hirshhorn Museum is surrounded by nearly three acres of sculpture gardens.

Photos by Arts Observer

“Brushstroke,” 1996 (painted aluminum, enlarged and fabricated 2002-03) by Roy Lichtenstein. Top of page, View from the central plaza.

The walls of the museum are a precast concrete aggregate of “Swenson” pink granite.

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