Multiple Organizations Raise Concerns about Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden Redesign

By Editorial Team on December 15, 2020

On May 21, 2019, East City Art reported that The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) designated the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden as a threatened and at-risk landscape as part of its Landslide program.  A proposed redesign by the Smithsonian would eradicate the work of landscape architect Lester Collins. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and opened in 1974. Following negative reviews (the New York Times described the Bunshaft-designed sculpture garden as “a gravel pit”), the Smithsonian engaged landscape architect Lester Collins to redesign the garden in 1977; the Collins design, which was done within the framework of the Bunshaft original, opened in 1981.

Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. Image by Gryffindor for the Public Domain.

On December 3, National Capital Planning Commission heard testimony through an online hearing from Smithsonian officials and their consultants as well as organizations and individuals who have raised concerns to the redesign. The latter group includes TCLF, The Committee of 100, Docomomo US, DC Preservation League and even Lester Collins’ biographer Nancy Slade; they all support efforts to address infrastructure failures and other deficits, but have issues with the use of materials incompatible with the Bunshaft/Collins design and alterations to the water feature which acts as a critical element in the garden.

The following articles by The Cultural Landscape Foundation summarize the ongoing controversy:

Planning Officials on the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden Redesign – Not so Fast  (Dec. 6, 2020)
But is it Art? Evasive Responses from Hirshhorn Officials about the Sculpture Garden Redesign (Oct. 19, 2020)
Lester Collins’ Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden Faces Threat  (May 10, 2020)