- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

The most exciting architectural developments in Washington this fall aren’t new buildings but renovations to the city’s familiar landmarks.

On Nov. 21, the Smithsonian will reopen the National Museum of American History after a two-year overhaul. New York-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP has transformed the 1964 building’s central core into a skylighted hall with a glass staircase and displays of more than 400 historical artifacts.

A new gallery will better showcase the original tattered American flag from Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The entrance to this space will be marked by a sculptural relief of a flag rippling in the breeze.

Another Smithsonian venue on the Mall, the National Museum of Natural History, will unveil its newly restored Sant Ocean Hall off the rotunda on Sept. 27. Quinn Evans Architects Inc. of the District reinstated the original beaux-arts features within the 23,000-square-foot space, including moldings, doorways and paint colors, while adding escalators linking the hall to the museum’s lower level.

A giant squid suspended in a tank, a replica of a 45-foot-long North Atlantic right whale and 7-foot-tall prehistoric shark jaws are among the new exhibits. A film of the underwater world will be shown on the walls above the artifacts.

The long-delayed visitors center at the U.S. Capitol finally will open Dec. 2, the 145th anniversary of the date in 1863 when the Statue of Freedom was placed atop the dome. Designed by RTKL Associates Inc. of Baltimore, the three-level underground building extends below the newly landscaped east grounds. It has grown to accommodate House and Senate office space and, at 580,000 square feet, is nearly the size of the Capitol itself.

For millions of tourists, the center will explain the history of the legislative branch and its building through exhibits designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates Inc., the New York firm responsible for the Newseum’s displays. Theaters for orientation films and a 550-seat cafeteria also are part of the subterranean structure.

At the foot of Capitol Hill near Union Station, the 1935 Acacia Building at New Jersey and Louisiana avenues Northwest is being joined to its 1950s addition by a faceted glass-sheathed atrium. The combination of old and new is designed by the London-based Richard Rogers Partnership for Chevy Chase-based developer JBG Cos., which sold the building in April to local investor Ralph Dweck.

Best known for the Pompidou Center in Paris in collaboration with Renzo Piano, Mr. Rogers has devised a colorful steel “tree” to support the atrium’s jutting glass roof, which is being installed over the next few months.

Sleekly transparent office buildings continue to sprout up all over the city, and one of the newest is by Hickok Cole Architects PC. At 1050 K St. NW, the District firm has created what it calls “a sustainable interpretation of the modern glass box.” The 11-story building, which will be completed next month for the Tower Cos. and Lenkin Co. of Bethesda, maximizes daylight through its transparent, angled facades while reducing solar heat gain through energy-efficient glazing and sunshades. A garden filled with bamboo is being planted on the roof.

On Nov. 1, the Salvation Army will open its East of the River Corps Community Center in Anacostia to offer job training, after-school programs, day care and other social services. Its angular five-story building was designed by the SmithGroup Inc. to animate the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Morris Road Southeast with a lively combination of zinc, masonry and glass. Interiors will be filled with environmentally friendly features such as wall panels and cabinets made of sunflower seeds.

The National Building Museum will expand the picture of resource-conserving architecture with “Green Community,” an exhibition opening Oct. 23. Urban policies aimed at encouraging “smart” growth, transit-oriented developments and redevelopment of polluted sites will be demonstrated through case studies in cities from Denver to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. A section of the show will be devoted to earth-friendly building projects in the Washington area.

Design exhibits opening this fall are taking advantage of the resurgent interest in 20th-century modernism. On Oct. 3, the Renwick Gallery opens a retrospective devoted to the Italian glass artist Lino Tagliapietra. The 140-piece survey has been organized by the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., to celebrate the 40-year career of this influential Venetian glass blower and teacher.

Following last year´s jewelry show at the Renwick, the National Portrait Gallery is digging back in time to showcase baubles from the 1840s to 1875, starting Oct. 24. As much a photography exhibit as a craft show, “Tokens of Affection and Regard” focuses on portrait-bearing trinkets made possible through early reproductive processes, including daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes and paper prints. It highlights the pioneering photographers who created and promoted such jewelry, including Civil War chronicler Mathew Brady.

The Textile Museum in June abandoned its plans to open a second venue, in the District’s Penn Quarter, but it continues to offer some of the more exotic exhibits in town at its S Street Northwest location. On Oct. 18, the museum will open “Timbuktu to Tibet: Rugs and Textiles of the Hajji Babas” with a display of 90 Oriental carpets and other weavings. The show traces the rising appreciation of non-Western textiles through the 75-year-old Hajji Baba Club, one of the nation’s oldest societies of rug and fabric collectors, whose members included Textile Museum founder George Hewitt Myers.

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