Hirshhorn sculpture garden redesign receives final approval The National Capital Planning Commission voted in favor of Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto's design, which will expand the garden's entrance and increase accessibility along the National Mall.
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Hirshhorn sculpture garden redesign receives final approval

An arial view of the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden's redesign, which received final approval this week. Courtesy of/Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden hide caption

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Courtesy of/Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

A $60 million redesign plan for the Hirshhorn's sculpture garden, years in the making, received final approval on Thursday, the Smithsonian announced in a press release. The National Capital Planning Commission voted in favor of Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto's design, which will expand the garden's entrance, increase accessibility, and — Smithsonian officials hope — create a more welcoming entrance to the modern art museum for the millions of visitors who pass it every year on the National Mall.

"We welcome these approvals, which have followed a robust public process that allowed us to hear and incorporate the views of so many who care deeply about the garden," Hirshhorn director Melissa Chiu said in a statement. "The final design by Hiroshi Sugimoto, the renowned Japanese artist and architect, will enhance the experience of millions of Hirshhorn visitors in coming years."

Not everyone agrees.

The 1.5-acre sculpture garden's Brutalist design has been the subject of both criticism and praise for half a century; and since the redesign approval process began in 2018, Sugimoto's vision has also faced criticism, per The New York Times.

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"The DNA of the garden will be significantly altered," Charles Birnbaum, president and CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, told the Times. "We are disappointed that this seminal work is going to be so radically altered that it will have diminished integrity."

This will mark the garden's first renovation since landscape architect Lester Collins added cherry trees and lawn space in 1981. The Smithsonian says the project will repair broken infrastructure, double the number of ramp entries, and increase its native plants by 70%. The new layout also includes stone walls that separate the outdoor galleries, as well as a water basin that can be emptied and turned into a stage for live shows. The north entrance will expand by 40 feet, and an underground passageway on the south end will reopen to connect the garden with the plaza that surrounds the circular museum.

Sugimoto, the 73-year-old photographer and designer, remained confident in his artistic vision during the debate over his stacked-stone design. "Do you ask Picasso, 'I don't like this blue color. Let's make it red'?" he said in an August interview with The New York Times. He added about possibly getting pulled from the project: "I can be kicked off; that's fine."

He has worked with the Hirshhorn many times throughout his career, as the museum featured his first artistic photo installation in 2006. (He started as a commercial photographer before shifting to the conceptual side in the 1970s.) Sugimoto redesigned the museum's lobby by adding a Dolcezza coffee bar, tables made out of the roots of a 700-year-old tree from Japan, and a custom brushed-brass trash can.

"Sugimoto's vision is very much aligned with the garden's original influences but takes a view toward the future," Chiu said. "Our next chapter is one that is more inclusive and accessible and elevates the experiences and voices of today."

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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