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Exterior corner view of Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery from across a busy street
Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery

Reinvigorating a National Historic Landmark

Project Location

Washington, D.C.


LEED NC Silver


AIA Committee on the Environment Top 10 Green Project, 2018

Project Type

Museum, historic renovation

The Renwick Gallery, the first purpose-built art museum in the U.S., was built in 1859 and last renovated in 1967-1972. Our renovation of this National Historic Landmark replaces and improves major building infrastructure systems, enhances historic features, and improves interior conditions to ensure the preservation and efficient operation of this treasured structure for future generations.

Employing an artful interpretation balancing heavy infrastructure improvements with a light architectural touch, the design takes advantage of already-modified interior core light wells and attic space to accommodate new infrastructure, thus avoiding impact to historic spaces. Since reopening, the Renwick Gallery has seen increased audience engagement, rising from 35,000 visitors annually pre-renovation to 500,000 visitors and growing. The building is one of the first museums in the U.S. to use an all-LED solution for gallery lighting, which enhances energy efficiency while preserving the level of controlled lighting necessary in a museum environment. Energy performance is improved 50% from the 2012 baseline operation. We provided architecture; interiors; electrical and mechanical engineering; audiovisual; information transport; lighting; preservation; and sustainability design services.


The design takes advantage of already-modified interior core light wells and attic space to accommodate new infrastructure; thus, avoiding impact to historic spaces.


Design Focuses on the Artwork

The goal for the lighting design was for artworks and the building itself to appear to be the lighting source. This is achieved by an array of carefully tuned track lights with a wide range of beam angles and deep cutoffs so that the target of the light is the primary thing seen.

Marble sculpture of a woman on a black pedestal in the center of a small room, framed in front and behind by molded door frame

Custom Solution for 3D Object-Intensive Collection

The team collaborated with the Smithsonian Institution’s in-house lighting designer to develop a kit of LED sources and filters that provides the complete range of lighting environments needed for an increasingly diverse range of exhibits. This was a major technological innovation that was used to support energy conservation.

light fixtures, bulbs, and lens on a black surface

Increasing Gallery Flexibility

Embracing the owner’s vision to exhibit new methods of art-making requiring robust, yet flexible structural and building systems, the Grand Salon now supports 80 tons of additional load. The space was also retrofitted with technology infrastructure to accommodate a wide variety of future digital media arts installations and special events.

Colorful abstract art installation with pink and purple light on layers of sheer netting with shadows and light on white wall

Improving Infrastructure for Energy Efficiency

Prior to the renovation, equipment was generally difficult to access and challenging to maintain. Careful placement of equipment allowed the team to avoid changing the volume of the building while accommodating a new boiler plant, air-handling units, and facility storage. Color coding of all piping jacketing allows greater clarity for system maintenance.

Colorful exposed pipes in white room with mechanical boxes


Designer Insights

Custom sculptural chandelier hanging parallel above staircase in white room, banister with dark accent in front
Reinvigorating a National Historic Landmark Washington, D.C.


A Bright Idea in Lighting Design

July 18, 2017

Good museum lighting is all about the control of light. For this project, our goal was to be among the earliest museums lit entirely by LED sources. So, we set out to develop a custom family of LED fixtures that would meet all the requirements of a museum-grade lighting system.

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In the Media

Marble sculpture of a woman on a black pedestal in the center of a small room, framed in front and behind by molded door frame
2015 Renwick Gallery Renovation Washington, D.C.

AWA x 91Ʋ Washington, D.C. Adventure

February 1, 2021

William Corcoran was so passionate about his intention for the building he commissioned on Lafayette Square that he had it chiseled in stone above its entryway: “DEDICATED TO ART.” Though prevailing tastes of the day looked to Europe for creative achievement, Corcoran felt that his collection, and the art of his young country, was ready for its own venue. Accidentally Wes Anderson covers the story behind this first-of-its-kind place for the arts.

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A Sweet Surprise This Season

This holiday season, we’re gathering with friends new and old for our very first giveaway! In collaboration with Accidentally Wes Anderson and Oh! You Pretty Things cookies, three winners will receive custom cookie decorating kits to create some magic of their own. Inspired by bringing design into homes in a fun and unique way, this is an opportunity for friends and family to be creative together.

See the kits in action and enter the giveaway on our Instagram.


2017 Award of Merit

Illuminating Engineering Society

2017 DC | MD’s Award of Excellence for Best Renovations/Historic Restoration


2016 Award of Merit for a High-Performance Building

Sustainable Buildings Industry Council

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