Image courtesy of the Smithsonian

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian
Right now, the stretch of the National Mall from the Hirshhorn Museum to the Freer Gallery of Art looks desolate, with sandy, unmarked paths and unclear entrances to the museums hidden below it. But by 2036, the Smithsonian’s South Mall campus will be transformed, according to plans revealed today and designed by BIG, the Bjarke Ingels Group.

The redesign, which is estimated to cost $2 billion and take 10 to 20 years to complete, will replace aging building structures and mechanical systems, create direct paths between the south-side museums, and add more exhibition space.

The quadrangle building under the Haupt Garden, which houses the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, S. Dillon Ripley Center, and National Museum of African Art, will get a new roof  with skylights and light wells that’ll bring much-needed natural brightness to the underground spaces and offer visitors on the Mall a glimpse of what’s on display in the galleries below them. To more clearly mark the entrances to the below-ground galleries, Ingels’ design mimics the lifted corners of a page, allowing viewers to see the entrances from the Mall (as opposed to the current entrance kiosk within the Haupt Garden that’s visible only from Independence Avenue).

At the centerpiece of the renovation is restoring and preserving the Castle, which Ingels (who also designed the BIG Maze at the National Building Museum this summer) jokingly referred to as “the most heavily regulated piece of real estate on the planet.” A two-level underground expansion will allow engineers to make necessary seismic upgrades to the 165-year-old building, which suffered damage in the 2011 earthquake, and create more space for visitor amenities. The Great Hall, the floor space of which is currently reduced by 40 percent, will be restored to its full size, and administrative offices on the Great Hall’s upper level will be relocated.

Elsewhere, the Hirshhorn’s sculpture garden will be reconfigured and two new galleries will be added to accommodate larger pieces that don’t fit in the museum’s low-ceilinged galleries.

By replacing aging mechanical structures within the museums, Ingels’ team will dramatically reduce the Smithsonian’s CO2 emissions and energy consumption. It’ll also redesign gardens on the Mall, making the Smithsonian of the future greener than ever.

While this master plan is, right now, only that, Ingels’ renderings of it look incredibly promising. Take a look at several views below.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian