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Smithsonian Planning Major Upgrades to Renwick Gallery

Rendering of the Renwick Gallery
The Renwick Gallery, home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s craft and decorative arts program, will close early next year for a two-year renovation that will upgrade the building’s infrastructure and enhance its original features. Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Renwick Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and attracts approximately 175,000 visitors each year, will be closed for two years for its first comprehensive renovation in more than 40 years.

March 12, 2013—The Renwick Gallery, home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s craft and decorative arts program, will close early next year for a two-year renovation that will upgrade the building’s infrastructure, enhance its original features, and create a 21st-century environment. The Smithsonian plans to reopen the restored building to the public in 2016.

The Smithsonian has engaged the Washington, D.C., office of Cleveland-based Westlake Reed Leskosky as the architect of record for the project. The scope of work includes retrofitting the galleries with light-emitting diode (LED) lighting, renewing the infrastructure, restoring any of the building’s original features that have been compromised during earlier renovations, and upgrading the security, phone, and data communication systems, including the installation of wireless access throughout the building. The project is currently in the design phase with Westlake Reed Leskosky.

It’s an ambitious project, the first renovations of the 34,000 sq ft building since the late 1960s, says Roger Chang, P.E., ASHRAE BEMP, LEED AP, a principal of Westlake Reed Leskosky and the firm’s director of sustainability and mechanical engineering. “The visiting public will not notice many of the changes, but they are important to support the museum’s environment,” he says. “What’s interesting about the project is being able to weave new and modern systems into the existing structure.”

Chang notes that the LED retrofit is already attracting considerable attention in the architecture, lighting, and museum sectors because it will make the Renwick Gallery one of the first all-LED-illuminated museums in the United States. Prior to planning the total retrofit, the museum participated in a U.S. Department of Energy program called Solid-State Lighting GATEWAY Demonstrations, which ended in June 2012. As part of the study, halogen and incandescent lights in several galleries at the Renwick Gallery were replaced with LED PAR 30, PAR 38, and MR16 lamps. According to the study’s final report, all three types of LED lamps significantly reduced electricity consumption, and the cost of the LEDs was recovered in 16 months based on the energy savings alone.

On the basis of those results, “we are now developing an approach that will allow a potential seventy percent reduction in lighting power density,” Chang says. LEDs will also reduce the building’s carbon emissions and maintenance costs through longer lamp life, he adds. Beyond the energy savings, the Renwick Gallery expects to derive practical and aesthetic benefits from the change because the LED lighting will, for example, reduce the need for air-conditioning and enhance the appearance of certain types of art. Under the direction of Tom Gallagher, AIA, a principal of Westlake Reed Leskosky and the project architect and main lighting designer, the change will be accomplished throughout the galleries by retrofitting the museum’s track systems, which were installed in 2006.

Additional upgrades to the building’s infrastructure include the complete replacement of the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems, which were installed during the 1960s renovation. “The existing systems have gone well past their useful life span,” says Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “By restoring and replacing all the infrastructure systems, we will bring the building into the twenty-first century and renew it for at least the next fifty years.”

Much of the mechanical equipment is in the attic of the 150-year-old building. “Part of the creative solution is to keep the roofline intact, so we will have to maximize the space available,” Chang explains. The plan is to rearrange the equipment as it is replaced to create a more efficient space and maximize the available area. Structural modifications will be necessary to sustain the changes in loads.

The Smithsonian’s third-oldest building, the Renwick Gallery was designed in 1859 by the renowned architect James Renwick, Jr., for the private art collection of the banker and philanthropist William Corcoran. (Renwick also designed the Smithsonian Institution Building, often referred to as the Castle.) After being saved from demolition in 1962 by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, the Renwick Gallery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 and designated a national historic landmark in 1971. The latter designation restricts any architectural changes to the building, but during the 1960s renovation a number of the windows were replaced without concern for historical accuracy. The current plan calls for installing energy-efficient windows throughout that are consistent with the building’s character.

The 1960s renovation also included the installation of dropped ceilings in two of the galleries, which covered the beautiful original vaulted ceilings. Restoration of the original vaulted ceilings will be one of the most dramatic changes and one of the few elements of the current project that will be apparent to visitors, Broun says. Additional planned interior renovations include redesigning and redecorating the galleries with historically accurate colors and accessories and reconfiguring basement office and workshop space.

The renovation will be funded through a 50-50 public-private partnership. The National Park Service selected the Renwick Gallery in 2011 to receive $335,000 through the Save America’s Treasures grant program, and the funds will be applied to the renovation costs. The total budget for the renovation has not been determined, and construction bids have not yet been solicited.



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