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Last edited 15 May 2019
International Spy Museum
RSH+P's Spy Museum opened in Washington DC in May 2019.
Photographer Nic Lehoux, image courtesy of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners.
On May 12, 2019, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners' new home of the International Spy Museum opened in Washington, D.C.
Near to the Washington Monument, the museum houses a world-renowned collection of spy artefacts from around the globe, offering interactive installations for visitors of all ages. It is the only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to the tradecraft, history, and contemporary role of espionage.
The 140,000-sq-ft facility is located at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington DC, between the National Mall and The Wharf. It is the first cultural building to be designed by RSHP in the US and was conceived as a catalyst for regeneration in the area, aiming to attract people from the Mall to L’Enfant Plaza, and in turn to its surrounding area, all the way down to the southwest waterfront marina.
The building reaches the city’s height limit of 130ft (39.6m) from grade in just seven stories. Its most prominent features are the angled facades of the exhibit floors on the south and west sides of the site, encased in a black box. Propped up on columns over an aligned, existing structure, the black box comprises the bulk of the building, including its exhibition spaces. This is a floating structure which creates public and private spaces for a combination of different uses.
 Spatial arrangement
The lobby and retail facilities are located within a double-height ground-level space, with a mezzanine that holds an educational space for student and teacher workshops. Above the ground-level lobby are the museum’s three main exhibition areas featuring floor heights of up to 6m. These include the ‘Special Exhibitions’ floor, the theatre, permanent exhibition and task-finding, as well as the future ‘Operation Spy’ space. A metal staircase connecting these floors is suspended along the outside of the west facade and enclosed in a suspended glass atrium called the ‘veil.’
Offices can be found above the exhibition floors and floating above these is the events space which is encased in a white box crowned with a large, rooftop terrace. The steel structure found within the events box gives the museum 18.3m-spans with floor-to-ceiling windows arranged in a 180-degree span around the building. These provide a platform for observing the Washington Monument and the Capitol, the National Cathedral and the Basilica, the District Wharf and National Harbour.
With its large and slender, structural-steel beams extending upward from the site on L’Enfant Plaza in a predominantly concrete area of Washington DC, this type of architecturally-expressed structural steel is unlike any other in the district. The glass veil on the west facade protrudes from the building like a shining jewel, enticing people up toward it from 10th Street.
|Photographer Nic Lehoux, image courtesy of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners.|
“It has been an absolute delight to have been involved in the design of the International Spy Museum. It is a building for the future that will bring its neighbourhood to life; a celebration not only of the long-standing human activity that it showcases but also of the city around it. A landmark for 21st century DC”, said Ivan Harbour, Senior Design Partner at Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners.
Hickok Cole, Architect of Record, Michael Hickok, FAIA, Senior Principal and Owner said: “Partnering with Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners on The International Spy Museum was a rewarding experience for all involved here at Hickok Cole. The building is simultaneously a testament to technical sophistication, as well as a poetic concept representing the essence of espionage. The project also serves as a catalyst for future investment in Washington, DC’s L’Enfant Plaza neighbourhood. We can think of no better example of work that matters, and we look forward to seeing the building take its place among the city’s architectural landmarks.”
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