Architectural History of the Smithsonian Quadrangle, 1983




Date: 1983-1987


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  • Ground breaking for the Smithsonian Institution Quadrangle began in 1983, although design and planning for such a unique complex began in 1978. There was a strong desire to place the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery near the Freer Gallery of Art, but space on the mall was limited. The solution, developed by architect Junzo Yoshimura, was to build a discreet, underground complex. Each of the three buildings has an above ground entrance, but the majority (96%) of the National Museum of African Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and S. Dillon Ripley International center lies underground. The firm of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbot, lead by Jean-Paul Carlhian, also contributed to the design and construction.
  • The first of the above ground structures, the entrance to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, is a modern building that took on subtle elements of both the Arts and Industries Building (the pointed roof shape) and the Freer Gallery of Art (its coloring). The second structure, the entrance to the National Museum of African Art, also incorporates elements from the Arts and Industries and Freer Gallery Buildings. The red color matches that of A&I, and the rounded domes on the roof are reminiscent of the rounded archways that line the facade of the Freer Gallery. The third above ground structure, the pagoda-like pavilion that provides entrance to the S. Dillon Ripley Center, was adapted from a drawing by famous garden designer Humphry Repton. The fourth aspect of the Quadrangle, the Enid A. Haupt Garden, was designed by the landscape architects Sasaki Associates, with consultation on plant selection by landscape designer Lester Collins.
  • The overall architectural feel of the Quadrangle is one of historic American and English colleges and universities, which fits with Secretary S. Dillon Ripley's vision for the Smithsonian as a place for scholars, students, and artists from all over the world to come together.


  • Carlhian, Jean-Paul
  • Collins, Lester d. 1993
  • Yoshimura, Junzō 1908-1997
  • Renton, Humphry 1752-1818
  • Ripley, Sidney Dillon 1913-2001
  • Smithsonian Institution Quadrangle Complex
  • S. Dillon Ripley International Center
  • Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (Smithsonian Institution)
  • National Museum of African Art (U.S.)
  • Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbot
  • Sasaki Associates
  • South Yard


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Ewing, H., & Ballard, A. A Guide to Smithsonian Architecture. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2009.
  • Ottesen, Carole. A Guide to Smithsonian Gardens. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2011.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,




  • Landscape gardening
  • Landscape architecture
  • Art museums
  • Underground construction
  • Museum architecture
  • Underground architecture


  • Enid A. Haupt Garden (Washington, D.C.)
  • Washington (D.C.)

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