Danish architect Bjarke Ingels is known for designing modern, unconventional buildings, so it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has been selected to redesign the historic Smithsonian campus in Washington, DC. BIG will lead a design team that will include Surface Design, Traceries and Robert Silman Associates, which will be tasked with re-imagining the world’s largest museum and research complex. BIG won’t be designing any new buildings—at least for the time being—so we don’t expect any mountain-shaped forms to spring up on the National Mall, but the question of how, exactly, BIG will rethink the historic campus is still open.

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Smithsonian Castle, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC, Smithsonian, National Mall

With 19 museums and nine research facilities, anchored by the 1855 Smithsonian Castle, the 160-year old Smithsonian Institute campus is the world’s largest museum and research complex. The campus, which is located on the south side of the National Mall, is looking somewhat dated and cut off from the surrounding city, and the design team will be tasked with reenergizing the campus and positioning it as a gateway that draws visitors in.

BIG has been signed to a $2.4-million contract to draft Phase 1 of the master plan, which is expected to take eight to 12 months to complete. Although the exact details of how BIG will rethink the sprawling campus haven’t been revealed yet, the Smithsonian has offered some hints. The new master plan will reinstate the Smithsonian Castle as the central hub and entry point for visitors, according to a press release, and the Central garden, which is currently hidden, will be reconnected with the National Mall with a new entrance to the castle.

“The abundance of historical heritage, the diversity of architectural languages and the cacophony of exhibits are tied together by a labyrinthine network of spaces above and below ground — inside and outside,” said Bjarke Ingels in a statement. “Our task is to explore the collections with The Smithsonian and together attempt to untie the Gordian Knot of intertwined collections to unearth the full potential of this treasure chamber of artifacts.”

+ Bjarke Ingels Group

+ Smithsonian Institution