Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, Smithsonian Institution

Edit profile
Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, Smithsonian Institution


The Smithsonian Institution occupies the former United States Patent Building, once 
described by the poet Walt Whitman as ‘the noblest of Washington buildings’. Built 
between 1836 and 1867, the Patent Building is the finest example of Greek Revival 
architecture in the United States and a celebrated part of the capital’s urban fabric. Now 
designated as a National Historic Landmark, the building was rescued from impending 
demolition in 1958 by President Eisenhower, who transferred it to the Smithsonian 
Institution for use as the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art 
Museum. The enclosure of the building’s grand central courtyard was prompted by a desire 
to transform the public’s experience of the Smithsonian’s galleries and provide the 
Institution with one of the largest event spaces in Washington. 
The enclosed courtyard forms the centrepiece of the building’s long-term renovation 
programme, which also included the redesign of the galleries with contemporary interactive 
displays, the addition of a conservation laboratory, an auditorium and greatly increased 
exhibition space. Visitors can enter the surrounding galleries from the courtyard, and out of 
museum hours the space regularly hosts a variety of social events, including concerts and 
public performances. Designed to do ‘the most with the least’, the fluid-form, fully glazed 
roof canopy develops structural and environmental themes first explored in the design of 
the roof of the Great Court at the British Museum, bathing the courtyard with natural light.  
Structurally, the roof is composed of three interconnected vaults that flow into one another 
through softly curved valleys. The double-glazed panels are set within a diagrid of fins, clad 
in acoustic material, which together form a rigid shell that needs to be supported by only 
eight columns. Visually, the roof is raised above the walls of the existing building, clearly 
articulating the new from the old. Seen illuminated at night, this canopy appears to float 
above the Patent Building, symbolising the cultural importance of the Smithsonian 
Institution and giving new life to a popular Washington landmark.  
description by architects


38 photos and 4 drawings

Building Activity