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Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW, Washington, DC

The 21st-Century Renovation of the Renwick

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Renwick construction. Photo courtesy of Consigli Construction Co., Prakash Patel Photography.

On November 13 the Renwick reopened to the public after a major two-year interior and exterior renovation—the first comprehensive renovation of the building in 45 years. The renovation renews this Historic Landmark structure for future generations, preserving its unique historic features while creating a 21st century destination equipped to showcase the increasing complex art of today and tomorrow.

Westlake Reed Leskosky is the lead architectural design and engineering firm, and Consigli Construction Co. Inc. is the general construction contractor. Both firms are recognized leaders in historic preservation work, removation and sustainable design and have led projects on some of the nation's most notable historic buildings and museums.

All lighting within the Renwick has been converted to LED technology, a major goal of the renovation. The new lighting system, which include a number of lighting technologies unique to the Renwick, is a landmark advance in both lighting design and  museum energy efficiency. Combined with other infrastructural improvements the new lighting system will reduce the building’s energy usage by over 70% and significantly shrink its footprint, making the Renwick one of the most energy-efficient Smithsonian buildings.

The elegant “Octagon Room,” designed to display William Corcoran’s favorite sculpture, Hiram Powers’ “Greek Slave,” features a full-size 3-D print of the sculpture made from a scan of the original plaster in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection, as well as presents a history of the building accompanied by historical documents and photographs.  

Additional highlights of the interior and exterior renovation include:

  • A contemporary, redesigned interior aesthetic, including a dramatic new carpet for the Grand Staircase designed by French architect Odile Decq in her signature red color.
  • Revealing long-concealed vaulted ceilings on the second floor following removal of 20th century drop ceilings.
  • Opening several long-covered windows to fill the galleries with natural light.
  • Installation of a new wireless show control system for digital and electronic artwork.
  • Expanded and upgraded facilities for art storage and exhibition preparation.
  • Replication of the building’s original historic window profile around new blast-proof windows.
  • Exterior brick repointing and stucco repair to keep the building’s façade both beautiful and resilient.
  • Replacement of, or significant upgrades to, all building infrastructure, including all heating, air conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems, as well as fire-suppression, elevator, security, phone and data-communication systems.

Funding for the $30 million renovation was a 50-50 public-private partnership.