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Demolition Begins On D.C. Pavilion to Make Way for Bezos Learning Center

Mon January 30, 2023 - Northeast Edition
The Architect’s Newspaper & CEG

One of the proposed designs for the Bezos Learning Center at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. (Rendering courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)
One of the proposed designs for the Bezos Learning Center at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. (Rendering courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)

A glass pyramid restaurant pavilion, designed by famed architect Gyo Obata, is being demolished in Washington, D.C., to make way for the planned $130 million Bezos Learning Center. The site is on the National Mall next door to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.

The three-story Smithsonian educational facility is being funded largely by a $200 million gift from billionaire Jeff Bezos, founder and executive chair of Amazon, and the creator of Blue Origin, the space flight company famous for giving wealthy people short hops into space.

The glass pavilion, which opened in 1988 at the intersection of Jefferson Drive SW and 4th Street SW, is one of two buildings designed for the National Mall by Obata, who died in 2022 at age 99. He and his firm, Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum (HOK), also designed the Air and Space Museum in 1976, to which the pavilion was connected.

Workers began demolishing the restaurant pavilion in December, a task expected to finish in February, according to Alison Wood, deputy director of communications for the National Air and Space Museum.

Smithsonian representatives disclosed last year that the institution intended to raze the restaurant building, which served as a dining area for the museum's visitors, to make way for the 50,000-sq.-ft. learning center, planned to occupy the same footprint on the east side of the museum.

The 47-year-old aeronautical gallery has been undergoing renovations and partially reopened last October, according to The Architect's Newspaper.

The pyramid-shaped pavilion was built primarily to serve school groups and others visiting the Air and Space Museum, but it closed in 2017 and was not protected by any landmark designation.

As of mid-January, crews had fenced off the site and removed all the glass panes from the restaurant pavilion, leaving the structure's steel frame to take down.

Bezos Center Will Work With All Smithsonian Museums

The Smithsonian describes the Bezos Learning Center as a world-class educational facility that will feature programs and activities related to innovations and careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the arts. Specifically, the center is designed to include exhibition and teaching spaces, a restaurant, a rooftop terrace and an observatory.

Additionally, the facility will be connected to all Smithsonian museums, coordinating collections and experts across the institution, and promoting inquiry-based learning for visitors of all ages, with a focus on under-resourced communities.

According to the Smithsonian, $80 million of Bezos's gift will go toward the learning center's design and construction, and $50 million will fund programming. The remaining $70 million is slated to help pay for the ongoing renovation of the Air and Space Museum, a project started in 2018 and expected to cost more than $360 million.

Quinn Evans Architects, in Richmond, Va., is leading the design work for the popular museum's renovation.

The Architect's Newspaper reported that the Smithsonian issued a solicitation for architects to design the Bezos Learning Center last year before narrowing its choices down to five proposals in September. The Smithsonian is expected to announce its preferred design soon.

Once an architect is named, the Smithsonian's timetable calls for 2023 to be devoted to the Bezos Learning Center's design. After that, construction should begin in 2024 and be complete in 2026, the 50th anniversary of the Air and Space Museum and 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

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