Foster + Partners were commissioned to reclaim the space as the centerpiece of the building’s long-term renovation programme. Structurally, the roof is composed of three interconnected vaults that flow into one another through softly curved valleys. The double-glazed panels are set within a diagrid of fins, clad in acoustic material, which together form a rigid shell that needs to be supported by only eight columns. Visually, the roof is raised above the walls of the existing building, clearly articulating the new from the old. Seen illuminated at night, this canopy appears to float above the Patent Building, symbolising the cultural importance of the Smithsonian Institution and giving new life to a popular Washington landmark.
Judge for the New and Old Category and RIBA President Sunand Prasad said: “A number of schemes (entered in the awards) involved the adroit insertion of modern elements into existing structures to release hidden functional and spatial potential… the covering of the courtyard at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, USA by Foster + Partners is an exquisite example of this approach: the technically highly sophisticated canopy not only creates a new thermally conditioned urban room for Washington but also excellent acoustics and new connectivities.”