National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum Courtyard Rocks


I think I’ve mentioned that the National Portrait Gallery (also housing the Smithsonian American Art Museum) is one of my favorite places in DC (located at 8th and F Streets, NW). I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never actually checked out the awesome courtyard before. I don’t know how I’ve managed to walk around it every time… Anyway, it’s freaking awesome. Their Web site says:

“The enclosed courtyard with its elegant glass canopy designed by world–renowned architects Foster + Partners provides a distinctive, contemporary accent to the museums’ Greek Revival building. Foster + Partners was assisted by internationally acclaimed landscape designer Kathryn Gustafson of Seattle–based Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd. in the creation of the courtyard’s interior design, with a variety of trees and plantings, as well as a unique water feature.”

You can read more about it here (though at present there was no water feature). More photos after the jump.



13 Comment

  • The water feature is really awesome when they have it turned on. There are several rectangular areas where the water flows from one end to subtly drain in the other, it looks like a shimmering sheet on the floor. Of course the fun part is when people who can’t take their eyes off the ceiling walk through the water. Maybe that’s why it’s been shut off lately.

  • I find myself in the atrium every couple of weeks or so, and I’ve only seen the water turned on once or twice, maybe in the last February-March timeframe. I’ll agree it looks really neat.

  • The water features are deeply disappointing to me, mainly because I love them so much and they are almost never functioning. When they are turned on, though, they add an entirely different dimension to the space, aurally, visually, and physically. I have very often wondered why they are so rarely turned on. I have heard that plumbing issues might have been responsible, and if that’s the case it’s a real shame, because the courtyard is really still brand new. Anyway, I second it being one of DC’s great public spaces, but I wish it would reach its potential more often.

  • That museum also has one of the most amazing pieces of outsider art ever made:

    • I must have spent about a half hour walking around this piece last time I went – truly amazing. You’ll never look at aluminum foil the same way.

  • This is a gem of a place. There’s a cafeteria there and the food is OK, but you can also bring your own food in. I’ve seen plenty of folks bring picnic lunches and meet up with friends. The room is big enough for children to run around and burn off some energy. It’s particularly good when the weather is crummy. You sort of feel like you’re outside except the temperature is nice.

  • I just discovered the courtyard recently and I agree that it’s a great public space – which is something that DC can be lacking in when the weather is cold and hanging out outdoors is not an option.

  • It’s also a great place to sleep if you don’t have anywhere else to go.

  • I work at the NPG…the water feature has had so many problems, it was leaking into the auditorium below. It was fixed for the inauguration, but quickly broke, and it is so expensive that I think it will be a while before it’s fixed.

    The courtyard is a great space for lunch! Free wifi! And go check out the portraits of the presidents.

  • My parents spent two days in this museum last time they were here. They just loved it!

  • that atrium is super awesome. glad you finally discovered it. wish i worked near there, i’d probably eat lunch there every day…ha….

  • The same landscape architect did the Princess Di water fountain in London. It had leak problems as well. Shame.

  • Fantastic courtyard. And the security guards were nice enough to let my friend and me play catch with our Nerf football.

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